Lego Blog: Illustrating Flash Pulp episode FP002

On With Flash Bricks

No one, least of all me is surprised by how late this post is. Needless to say I did this quite a while ago, but I enjoyed scribbling about the building process before and wanted to do more. I’m continuing to pick up Flash Pulp episodes sequentially. They’re now up to episode 434. Intimidating. More so when that figure doesn’t include special episodes, guest episodes and all the other stuff…

Illustrating The Story

FP002: Mulligan Smith and the Well Dressed Man‘ continues the investigative adventures of Flash Pulp’s resident PI on the bread and butter business of checking up on folks’ spouses. It takes place in two bars, with an assortment of characters. Only one of the two gets a description in the story and it has appealing details, like not being very large!

“The establishment wasn’t large, the single long bar dominated the north wall, which faced onto a series of booths. The rest of the space was loudly dominated by an empty, shabby, dance floor. The paint was black and the booths were a dark fake-leather vinyl – the only well lit portions of the room were the over-sized shelves crammed with cheap liquor.”

The long bar gets a bit shortened, but I had fun making optics and bottles. Plugging the round 1×1 bricks seems fairly effective for a bottle – I assume it’s Heinekin or something. I nicked the pump clip shield from our minifig collection. The bar itself is mostly built sideways with my beloved palisade bricks. I opted not to make the walls darker than light grey in fear of not being able to photograph the thing at all.

The booth(s) were delightful to build and I found a bunch of parts that fit together beautifully. As ever, when I finally notice it, the design of Lego bricks to miraculously fit together when you least expect it is just amazing. Given the size of the base I’d chosen I could only fit one booth in, but I don’t think I’ve got enough of the seat plates to make more anyway.

The front of the bar left me perplexed. In retrospect I’d like to have made a name sign, but it’s all dismantled now. The MOC was only designed for the interior, but it’s nice to make the outsides pretty too. Mostly I had a bit of a play with sideways palisades.

Minifigging the Characters

Since it’s Mulligan I got to reuse Mr Smith. He’s likely to be the only character who stays built. I put a pair of ladies on a night / mid-afternoon out in the booth because it otherwise looked far too empty. Only two of the other characters are described – the well dressed gent himself, and the poor lady he’s chatting up:

“…a man in a decent Armani knockoff with an extremely sweaty collar. Beside the moist man stood a blonde woman in a simple white t-shirt, crisp jeans and weekend cowboy boots. The woman was perpetually craning her head, scanning the smattering of afternoon patrons.”

The two heads I chose are some of my favourites – smugness and scowling. The lady’s top came out of the minifigure bins at the Lego Shop – one of those times when we spend aaaaages trying to find more than one brick slope dress. This one goes nicely with jeans.

I don’t know what an Armani suit looks like, but I reckon they might do a black one. I couldn’t find a sweaty shirt collar though. I can dream. The man (in my mind) is holding a tumbler of whisky, but every time I look at him it’s clearly an ashtray.

There has to be a barman right? A miserable sod in a divey bar.

 

Endless Building Choices

I’m pretty happy with how it all turned out (except for the front and the walls…) Once again I built something that is virtually impossible to photograph. One day I’m going to remember to put hinges in so I can swing the whole thing open like a doll house. I especially enjoyed making furniture, and again choosing the minifig parts took hours.

It’s a very densely populated and tiny bar! There’s just enough room for Mulligan to lurk by the bar and observe his target’s bad behaviour.

Now Read and Listen To The Story!

Here’s the full story: Mulligan Smith and the Well Dressed Man

There are a handful more pictures here, on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eric_the_bewildered_weasel/albums/72157652854572592

 

Book Review: Fletcher and the Mutineers

Fletcher and the Mutineers by John Drake

Published by Endeavour Press in July 2015

Fletcher and the MutineersI was lucky enough to get a review copy of this for free, which naturally inclines my favour towards it…

This is the third book in John Drake’s swashbuckling adventures of Jacob Fletcher. I’ve missed the first two, but I don’t think it matters as the previous events are conveniently summarised whenever you need a reminder. They purport to fill the gaps in the historical records with Fletcher’s faithfully recorded memoirs which is always fun, happily mixing fact into fiction.

It begins with the first ever submarine strike on a vessel in 1776 which I’d never heard of and instantly grabbed my attention. The story then switches to our hulking hero Fletcher arriving in Jamaica (fleeing from his crazy and homicidal step-mother, the law and the navy) where he seeks to improve his fortune through trade and business rather than cracking skulls. He does plenty of both before his step-mother, rebellion and the navy catch up with him again.

I very much enjoyed the book, it bounds along with pace and mischief. Fletcher is an engaging rogue and most of the tale is told by him. I like his wheeling and dealing across Jamaica and his attempts to avoid being just another thug. He’s not entirely successful… he also gets mixed up in the maroon revolt and a host of dangerous characters.

It’s a slightly jarring switch to the third person accounts of his wicked stepmother, Lady Sarah. That oddness is offset by her being utterly crazy – from acquiring shaggable slaves, wrapping everyone around her finger, using her stout enforcer to remove her enemies and then pursuing Fletcher to Jamaica to destroy him.

Fletcher bounds through naval warfare, slavery, brawling, promiscuity and politics. It’s a hell of a ride, but my favourite part is the character of Lady Sarah who is truly demented and dangerous, I’m looking forwards to reading more about her.

It’s fun and worth a read: grab it at Amazon

Reviewed on Goodreads

Mini Book Reviews: Chill by Elizabeth Bear & Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks

Chill by Elizabeth Bear (2010)

A funky mix of medieval knights questing through an incredible artificial space-faring habitat.

I had no idea what to expect – this is one of many ‘second book in the series’ that I’ve received as gifts. They normally sit on the shelf until I’ve found the first one. However, our book stacks are getting ridiculous and my current system is just reading the next book on the heap.

I didn’t feel I was missing much though, the characters are suffering from their extended histories and the disasters of the first book. This is fixing it afterwards and preventing further chaos.

It’s a beautiful world that Bear has created, full of nanotechnology and weird whimsy. It reminded me powerfully of Brian Aldiss‘ ‘Hothouse’, one of my favourite books about the far future and the bizarre fruits of evolution.

All the characters were fun, and I feel I’d like to know them better so I may still seek out the first volume ‘Dust’. Bear’s use of Angels as the AIs and the complex multitude of personalities and histories wrapped in all the characters made for great intrigue and depth. Basilisks – yes. Mammoths – yes. Intelligent carnivorous plants – yes.

Since it is primarily a quest tale there is a lot of waking and thinking with most of the real action right at the end. That gives it a slightly odd pace but it worked perfectly for me and I was delighted throughout.

Elizabeth Bear

Find your own copy at Amazon


 

Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks (2009)

I loved the premises in this book – first that ‘Pleasures’ (fine foods, music, colours etc. according to the five senses) are aggressively taxed, forcing the poor to live bleak monotone lives and naturally creating a disgustingly rich elite who hoard it all for their benefit. That’s not at all a familiar state, nuh uh. That’s a fun tyrannical bureaucracy to play with in a story. Add to that the kind of related idea that there’s a world created by the imagination of artists which can be entered and explored by those in the know (the Mirrorscape itself), and that’s a whole bunch of world building coolness.

With all that brilliant set up it’s a bit of a shame that the story is the very familiar poor kid in a poor family shows talent and gets taken up to be an apprentice in the big city, in this case as an artist. There are really good sections of this book, but everything gets resolved far too easily which takes away a lot of the wonder. I did like the characters, but there are a lot if stereotypes jammed in quickly and we don’t get to know the big movers and shakers of this world until they’re gone.

I’ll be seeking out the sequel Mirrorstorm, and hoping we’ll find out more about the magical world that I enjoyed. I also really wish this was the cover of the book that I got – I’d probably have read it sooner. There’s an illustrated version out there somewhere too, which looks awesome.

Mike Wilks

Find your own copy at Amazon


Both reviews previously posted on Goodreads. Wanna be a pal on Goodreads? Click here.

 

Lego Blog: Illustrating Flash Pulp episode FP003

On With Flash Bricks

FP003_coverLa la la, building building building. When I was little I almost exclusively built spaceships. Now that I’m old I just want to make buildings. I don’t know if that’s terribly depressing or not… In any case, Flash Pulp is currently meeting my brick based desires. FP003 is the first episode that introduces the end of the world, which the entire 500 or so episode podcast is running up to.

The agent of the apocalypse is Kar’Wick the Spider God. I hate spiders. One of the things I really enjoy about the Kar’Wick stories when they pop up in the feed – they’re tales of ordinary lives that are suddenly torn about by the emergence of Kar’Wick. Fun!

Read and Listen To The Story

Here’s the full story: The Downtown Couple


So, as ever I’ve made something I can’t easily get in a single picture, so I made a clumsy video:

FP003 - The Downtown Couple

Illustrating The Story

It’s a straightforward tale of a bickering couple in the middle of town whose troubles are abruptly ended by the beast. There are some specific details that dominated the design and excluded a couple of lovely features that I would have loved to include, like a sausage cart.Next time, perhaps.

The corner was a busy one, full of locals trying to get home and tourists shuffling from the historical end of the city to the shopping district. Despite the crowd, the wall of sound the couple were generating parted the flow and allowed them a pocket of empty sidewalk large enough for vigorous hand waving and finger pointing.

Sooo many details! I’d have to build the whole damn city to complete this. I choose “empty sidewalk”. That seemed a simple way to feature the squabbling pair centrally. For some reason I read the story as her punching him out.

A single hairy stalk extended from the hole, its surface a tangle of barbs, each the size of a lamp pole and ending in a spear point.

The arachnid leg stretched high, a glancing blow shattering the corner of a nearby bank branch. Reaching its apex, the towering appendage began to tumble down: inescapable doom for the lingering couple.

Kar’Wick’s legs are too vast to build in full, so this is the merest tip of the leg tearing up the tarmac and smashing the bank.

    

Minifigging the Characters

There’s so much pleasure to be had rooting through minifig parts for the perfect characters. I’ve diverged from the story’s description more than previously (I am a terrible person). They look like a downtown couple though.

Equally important are the range of frightened, just-about-to-meet-their-end passers-by.

 

 

Endless Building Choices

The first part that I built was the road itself. It took a while of hinging plates and clipping bits and pieces together to create a seriously smashed up road surface. It’s lovingly filled with lights and the many, many transparent red cones that I’ve hoarded at Pick A Brick.

Since I’m a terrible planner, I then had to build Kar’Wick’s leg and figure out how to connect it to the base. It’s an overly complicated assembly of Technics pins and bricks to compensate for its weight. After building the leg I’ve thought of several other ways to build one, which will definitely come in handy in a few episodes’ time.

  


Downtown Banking

I’m really pleased with the bank. My last most favourite temple of wealth was from the amazing The Lone Ranger Colby City Showdown and I’ve retained the need for them to be lolly green. I’m getting better at lettering as well. The gold pig heads are from Guy Himber‘s awesome Kickstarter ‘Pigs vs Cows’.

Being some kind of magical idiot I added the interior of the bank which is completely invisible. I’m quite pleased with the safe.

  


What Could Be Sweeter?

I had the lovely details of a bank being pulled apart, and from the size of the rest of the set I could fit maybe one more building in too. I’ve loved the Lego Friends colours since they started to appear, even if I abhor the deliberate and divisive gender stereotyping that Lego indulges in. A sweet shop is the only logical solution! I’m pleased that I’ve found a good use for starfish and all the food bits we’ve acquired.

  

 


There are some more pictures of the details here, on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eric_the_bewildered_weasel/albums/72157653904700910

 

Wildlife Encounter: Hedgehog

Poddling Around The Garden

We’ve never really gotten around to doing much with our garden. It’s in the long long term plan, on the other other list.

That doesn’t stop it attracting a nice range of beasties though. We get a lot of butterflies, bees and ladybirds. When there aren’t too many of the neighbourhood kittens and cats around we also see tiny birds and frogs. I’ve even had the crap startled out of me by a late night (supernaturally enormous) fox.

One happy afternoon we found this delightful little tyke. It’s been years since we last had a ‘hog in the garden.

He seemed content to just have a munch, but since I was watching from so close he ambled up for a stroke! How very lovely.

A delightful hedgehog encounter.

We hung out for a while until the fat interloping cat showed up. Oh well. Norby (obviously his name) tottered off away from the big bad pussy cat and climbed into a plastic bag next door. I detached him and sent him on his way.

The Desert Crystals – Part 29: Knives in the Night

Desert Crystals Part 29 – Knives in the Night

Desert Crystals 2015Exotic shapes danced behind the thickly bubbled glass, casting a shadow play of dragons onto the street. The puddle of warm yellow light outside The Stout Apothecary was separated from the stark ovals projected from overhead lamps by rivers of pitch blackness. As any Meriodonal knows the dark brimmed with fauna banal and murderous in equal measure, much of it thankfully directed at maintaining the balance between those populations.

The more daring of the night beasts- a mating pair of godless-shrews scampered out of the flickering shadows. They were pursued by a third far larger godless-shrew, its double jaw extended towards their hindquarters. As it latched onto the pair the pub’s window exploded outward and a man fell heavily onto the crunch of glass. With the window removed the noise of a vigorous brawl intruded onto the night air.

Estfel Trabine roused himself from his bed of sharp pavement, shook his head and peered curiously at the ground.
“Oh hello – a godless-shrew. Ahh, you’ll be having babies soon,” he smiled at it dazedly. Two shrews dangled limply from its teeth, their threeway congress completed. Estfel cooed at it admiringly for a moment, then snatched up the equally dazed beast and hurled it through the smashed window.

“Take that you ball-worm!” An anguished cry greeted his accurate toss.

Trabine pulled himself fully to his feet, gingerly toeing the glass with one un-booted foot. The night air breezily assaulted his naked legs and torn shirt. He swayed for a moment and lurched towards the pub door.

“You alright out there Estfel?” Melee Galabrendle bellowed over the fray, “Oh you little-” her words were lost under the sound of glass breaking and punches landing.

“Quite alright my dear, I’ll be with you in just a tick,” Estfel hauled on the door handle, jerking it open as a wannabe assailant fell through the open door, receiving Estfel’s knee to his face as he went. Estfel stepped over the prone figure and rolled up his remaining shirt sleeve. The bar was a mess. Melee stood on a table in the middle of the room whacking people with the disintegrating wooden chair she had until recently been slumped in. She was surrounded by bruised and bleeding patrons, some of whom were gamely attempting to stand, only to be smashed back down again. Estfel saw no need to be concerned for his fellow editor; Estfel’s priority was the burly man with the strange beard who had thrown him through the window.

Although Estfel’s loud commentary on the facial hair of the other customers had not directly caused the fight, it had certainly primed them. Estfel’s undressing (after mocking the burly chap’s crenellated cheek tufts) and his bold declaration that he would show them all his scars was in itself well tolerated. Even Estfel’s whirled skirt landing in the fireplace where it immediately caught light and showered a table of rough looking university types with tatters of flaming silk was largely greeted with laughter. Melee drawing a pistol and shooting “the flames, the Bane-damned flames” probably crossed the line though. The barman had cut them both off as soon as Melee emptied the round and wearily tossed the pistol at the bar. It might have been Melee’s murderous glowering that then caused the barman to call in her tab. It was a mistake.

Estfel was merely very drunk. It was the natural result of starting with Quaverscant whiskey and following it with several bottles of mu-wine, and it took him the usual way. The mu-wine stripped away his natural reserve and brought back intensified memories of safari and a summer spent chasing armfish through the long grasses with his sisters. Ah, happy days of family, sunshine and late night trysts by the effervescent waters of the Glimmer. Indeed, that was where he had acquired a number of impressive scars, from inadvisable cavorting in those waters. Undressing was the obvious course of action when somewhat over-warmed by such romantic memories.

Melee however, had attained a dark state of scowling discontent again the natural result of whiskey followed by the violently blue mu-wine. Estfel, well knowing his partner’s disposition had considered a word of caution round about halfway through the second bottle but was still inwardly brooding about their earlier dispute over the beasts of the Allwright Marshes, not that he could have recalled the precise points of that disagreement. (Sometimes just remembering that you’ve been wronged is quite enough.) In this case Melee’s natural antipathy towards the general public and the mild hallucinogenic properties of Quaverscant whiskey, as well as Estfel’s insistence on once more telling her (and anyone in earshot, which at Estfel’s volume was everyone in The Stout Apothecary) about his stupid romantic liaisons in fizzy water all combined to produce a lethal discontent. The fire sprites clearly signalled danger and the barman was unprepared for war.

As Melee finished off the chair she was holding with a vicious strike across the barman’s shoulders Estfel swayed towards the gentleman with the ridiculous beard who it seemed had been the recipient of Estfel’s gift of godless-shrew. The beast had ejected its eggs into the man’s beard where they’d clearly used their sharp piton-like claws to anchor themselves in his throat. The anaesthetic properties of those claws had been documented by the Journals Biologinary several years ago; their effect would last for some hours. If the man was lucky he would awake to find them gone, otherwise the hatching young would use his neck and face as their first meals. Estfel gingerly plucked them from the man’s throat and arranged them in a small pyramid on the table top. With his desire for a scrap thwarted Estfel contented himself with an unbooted kick in the ribs.

Melee had apparently resolved her dispute with the pub. She left a heap of cash on the bar (taken from the tables of others) and helped herself to an unopened bottle of mu-wine.

“Come on Estfel, we’ve got work to do. I’m of a mind to do the editorial for the next issue.” So saying she staggered out of the pub’s door. Estfel followed a moment later, wondering where his other boot had gone.

Coming Soon: Part 30 – Twisted Up

Book Review: Transformers Volume 7 – Combiner Wars (First Strike) 2015

For my money the Transformers universe is kicking the teeth out of George RR Martin’s chilly little world. This fantastic Transformers comic series continues, with both Autobots and Decepticons back on Earth in search of revenge and the lost secret to Cybertronian gestalts.

By this point in the story it’s getting a little confusing. This is numbered the seventh collected volume of Robots in Disguise, but that follows at least a dozen others in the same continuity plus there are another six (eight now?) running in parallel to this storyline! In short – the Autobot/Decepticon war has ended, apparently decisively on Earth. Cybertron has been resettled (currently under Starscream’s worrying leadership), Metroplex has returned, as has Galvatron and several of the most ancient Transformers (from the Dark Universe no less), Bumblebee is dead, Shockwave has attempted to destroy the universe, Megatron is now an Autobot and Prowl is going insane as the new head of Devastator… and that really doesn’t even come close to catching up.

image

This the first part of the Combiner Wars story –  the secret of combining Transformers into powerful gestalts. Thankfully we have Alpha Trion and Galvatron to fill in some of the background on Cybertron, way way back in the semi-feudal era of the Prime tribes. There’s an ingenious mention of Headmasters in that early history and a number of fan favourites such as Rhinox appear briefly, lending some context to the existence of the bestial Transformers. This series constantly delves into the myths and history of Cybertron and its biggest players, enriching what was once just a series of adverts for plastic toys. It’s fair to say that this series more than any other has wrenched Transformers out of adverts and into a rich fictional universe of its own.

It’s not all talk – far from it. With Prime distracted by the recovery and insights of Alpha Trion, he leaves the Autobots orbiting a very tooled up and hostile Earth. Unfortunately he leaves Prowl in charge – that’s the Prowl who until recently was being controlled by the Decepticons and indulging in horrifyingly utilitarian strategies, not that any of his colleagues thought he was any worse than usual. He’s also teamed up with the Constructicons (the only “successful” gestalt so far – Superion fared quite poorly but is being tended to by a recuperated Wheeljack, while Monstructor who is properly crazy hasn’t been seen for a while) which is bad news for Earth since their leader Scrapper was killed by humans during the same war that cost Prowl even more.

Thundercracker and Buster
Thundercracker and Buster

It gets worse, obviously. Galvatron is seeking out the Enigma of Combination which he thought he’d destroyed millions of years ago (guess what – it’s on Earth). Arcee is supposed to be keeping an eye on Prowl, but she’s half crazy anyway –  not to mention she was formerly Prowl’s prize assassin (and since when have the good guys needed assassins?). She’s a great character (with quite a history) who takes absolutely no crap from anyone, whether it’s her allies or enemies. My current favourite character Thundercracker (awful-screenplay-writing, dog owning ex-Decepticon hermit living on Earth) is immediately sucked back into the fray in attempting to stop another Earth-Transformer war. The last one took a billion human lives and no few Transformers – can they really afford another…?

So it’s carnage all the way. As ever, the story is nailed by the wonderful artwork. I was especially delighted by the first chapter, drawn by Sarah Stone. It’s a bit of a shame she doesn’t get to more of it. That’s not to say the rest of the volume isn’t also gorgeous. It is, happily continuing the style that the best of the last few volumes have nailed for the Transformers. John Barber is happily expanding the Transformers universe and I’m certainly happy for him to continue.

I read the comic in TPB form on ComiXology, which I still find the best way to read comics.

Transformers (2011-) Vol. 7: http://www.comixology.com/Transformers-2011/digital-comic/217623

Paper: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transformers-Volume-Combiner-Wars-First-Disguise/dp/1631402854

Thankfully I have the next chapter of the Combiner Wars to go straight into…

Lego Blog: Illustrating Flash Pulp episode FP004

Getting Carried Away

I really enjoy making birthday cards for friends and family. Ya gotta have rules for who gets ’em, otherwise I’d never stop making them. Anyway, I almost always start with a nice simple idea, and through a process of imaginary 3D rules for how things fit together and a deeply unhelpful love of wild complications I spend hours and hours more than I really should have done. But – it usually turns out looking pretty!

And thus I found myself with FP004. I’m still very much enjoying this project. I really didn’t need to build this much…


Read and Listen To The Story

You have to do this now:

Here’s the full story: Mulligan Smith and the Standoff

FP004


Illustrating The Story

So – as the title suggests, it is indeed a standoff situation in a private residence between ace PI Mulligan Smith and the homeowner keen to defend his privacy (not necessarily how the story goes).

So that could have a been a super simple set up. I basically need this bit: two guys with guns and a couple of doorways. That’s the story right?

   

But that damned Jrd Skinner and all of his damn words.

… the plush white carpet of the home office to the burgundy pile of the hallway…  the white paneled house … the plush, dusty coral living room carpet. The PI was perched in the shadows at the edge of the hallway: a right would take him to the front door, the fake hardwood of the short front hall directly in the line of sight of the sunken living room. His other option was to move forward into the inky blackness ahead of him, where he knew the kitchen and dining area lay. The alternate route offered the conveniences of a patio door and an overlook into the living room.

A sprint to the sliding door tempted Mulligan, but the idea of silhouetting himself against the glow of the huge window kept him still. He was beginning to contemplate turning back into one of the alternate doors that branched off from the hallway …

Just look at all those words. Now I could not think of any good way to do plush carpeting (that’s gonna add to a future nightmare obsession) so I switched colours as needed. Plus I’m really bad at 3D mental rotation of images, and maps. And maths, come to that. I couldn’t figure the exact dimensions of the house so I laid out a simplish (buildable) ground floor and filled it with rooms.

I’m pretty pleased with the corner sofas. The bookcase is absurdly complicated.

There Is No Stop

But I wasn’t content (damn that Jrd, creating worlds and everything). I’d virtually forgotten the story, but I needed stairs. I needed another floor.  I realised I’d committed myself to making the whole house.

That’s cool though, because I wasn’t sure I had enough Lego to construct a whole building, even if just a little one. I had fun with the bathroom and bedroom.

     

So yeah, I got quite carried away.

  

Ah! the outside too… lookit the pretty flowaz! And a roof – I hate making roofs. One day I’ll be good at it…

Minifigging the Characters

I’ll confess the build overwhelmed the story for this one, but since I already had Mulligan the only decision I could make for him was whether to give him a hood up or keep the hood down. I went with ‘down’ because it looks so odd otherwise.

 

The old man doesn’t get any of the lush description that his house receives, but the standoff put me in a Western frame of mind. I think I’ve made Sam Elliott in Lego.


There are some more pictures of the details here, on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eric_the_bewildered_weasel/albums/72157658419372579

 

Book Review: The Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan

I liked it, but didn’t love it.
Trudi Canavan‘s first novel is the standard ‘kid in poverty discovers they have a talent (magic) and ends up in a new world being trained to master that skill’. That has to be a genre in its own right by now. It’s a perfectly reasonable storyline but I may have read too many books lately that begin this way. The Magicians GuildThe main character is a young lady born in poverty (one of the ‘dwells’ – someone living outside the walled city proper in the slums. Her family have clawed their way out of utter poverty into the outer ring of the city, but a regular purge of the poor sees them kicked out again. When confronted by a wall of magicians enforcing the king’s law, Sonea discovers her magical potential and lobs a rock into one of their heads.
So begins a chase around the city, hiding out with the Thieves, being given up by thieves, being captured by magicians, some magic training, a bit of light kidnapping, some lying and finally full Stockholm’s kicks in.
It’s an easy read, but the main character Sonea is bizarrely disempowered throughout. She’s a victim of society (poor) and a direct victim of a cruel system of purges (enforced by the magicians?!) which push her family back into the ghetto. Fleeing, she trades her future value as a possible magician to Faren, one of the Thieves and lives under his protection and that of her childhood friend. In fact she’s completely dependent on them as she becomes a danger to herself and has to be ferried around the city one step ahead of the magicians. She’s then sold out to the magicians. Again, she’s dependent on one of them for her present and future but is offered a somewhat ambiguous deal by A Bad Magician, which only makes sense once her childhood pal has been imprisoned in the incredibly well hidden place underneath the Magicians Guild that everyone knows is there.
In fairness to the magicians, they’re torn between needing to teach Sonea how to control her powers and the sheer awkwardness of them accidentally killing a kid who they thought tossed the rock at their mate. That explains some of their behaviour, but it doesn’t help to explain what the point of magic in this world is. We get brief demonstrations of magic radar, a bit of levitation and telepathy and their force field. There’s really nothing about how that fits into the larger political context, other than there is no war, because all the magicians are taught at the same school. Basically it’s a boarding school for future Tory backbenchers and rest of the one percenters.
I hope Sonea gets some power in the rest of the series, because right now I just feel bad for her. It may be that the scope of the story will expand along with her magical abilities – we’ve had the barest hints of Black Magician Badassery which presumably pushes the trilogy forwards, so I’ve got hope for the series.

The Desert Crystals – Part 30: Twisted Up

Part 30 – Twisted Up

Desert Crystals 2015

Flying isn’t as simple as you’d think. And it’s a terribly long way down. Harvey had been on top of The Dove’s Eye’s balloon for too long and he felt as if his soul were adrift.

The slowly increasing altitude did help with the awful, dry, moisture-sucking heat that evaporated every glistening gem of cool wetness which lay between his sliding sheets of chitin, that made the very memory of dank sodden bark a dim, tear streaked memory. The sun of the Bane still beat harshly on his shell, like a hammer made of blinding light. He felt uncomfortably hot and dry inside his shell, and his mandibles clicked spastically.

There was a deep and growing itch in what Rosenhatch would probably call his armpits, except that Harvey had dozens of them. And the itch was in each and every one of them; a niggling rasp that made his limbs tremble. That quiver had begun to spread from the very tips of his tail, vibrating down into the hard nail of each leg in turn. He was a very tired piano being played by a very tired and talentless pianist. The tempo varied with each pass of his legs.

Perhaps the lack of rhythm was driving his mind out of its proper tempo too. To a place where a being with no wings had no business, still less dragging a vast weightless abdomen across the sky. Surely there would be a tree trunk to shelter beneath somewhere.

Gingerly Harvey began to experiment with his music book, relaxing a single leg at a time and surrounding it with a fierce clenching of its neighbours. That became his new rhythm, out-racing the growing spasms with his own choice clensions. As his joints scraped out their own song, and as the sun continued to beat down on the beleaguered centipede he dipped into his own stream of consciousness less and less.

He had known before the baking heat that he was the only thing holding the canopy together, his pincers pulling the canvas tight together, feeling the strain of the remaining globes inside pressing up at his belly. More and more it came to feel like he was weighted with thousands of young, his to release into the clouds. He would proudly watch them scurry down to the desert sands. Meanwhile he would recede endlessly into the glowing green and blue hemisphere which emanated from his antennae.

Night leached the heat from his aching chitin. Harvey’s universal awareness slipped away and he came back to himself in the gaze of countless stars and nebulae that lashed him with invisible lightnings of cold and eerie awareness. Perhaps he didn’t quite come all the way back to himself, but he was aware of his place in the vastness of space. He could feel how his soul bead was leashed to a web of minds joining him to those in distant space, and those in the cellars of the realm beneath his claws.

Finally one of those souls clawed its way up into Harvey’s plane of awareness. Though he sensed the closeness of a like mind it was not until his shuffling mental rhythm was disrupted by a more urgent beat being hammered out that he was jolted awake. The hammering was that of knuckles rapping on his third segment. In surprise he almost let go of the canvas then with a panicked lurch grabbed hold of his sky babies once more. Against the starlight his percussionist was revealed to be Rosenhatch Traverstorm.

It took great effort, but Harvey rotated his eye and with a horrid click, managed to move his speaking mandibles enough to croak out a ‘hello’.

“There you are Harvey,” Rosenhatch sighed, “I thought you’d faded out on me.”

“How long are we,” Harvey began, restarted, “how do the repairs go?”

Rosenhatch pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and began gently polishing Harvey’s chitin. “It’s been four days Harvey. It’s almost over. Corshorn’s engineers are coming up shortly to stitch and tar the canvas. You can come down soon.”

“It’s… I’m not sure I can old friend. The sky needs me. The stars will take us all.”

Rosenhatch stared at Harvey for a moment. “You definitely need to come down.”

Harvey peered back at him, wondering how Traverstorm could possibly fail to understand that he anchored the world with his claws. He flexed all of his legs like the phantom pianist who had so vexed him.

Traverstorm grabbed at his safety line as the bag shifted under his feet. “For soul’s sake Harvey – just hang on for a little while longer. We’ll get you in the cabin before dawn, I promise you.”

Harvey rolled his eyes and continued his kneading of the canvas edges beneath his claws. He drifted back off into contemplation of the universe.

Rosenhatch stayed with him as the engineers ascended the canopy and clipped on around the giant centipede. Gently they slid a heavy net under and round Harvey’s long body. Once he was secured they waited by each claw for its slight relaxation and slipped the canvas away from him. As each claw was unpinned the canvas beneath was drawn tight, stitched and tarred. Huge belts anchored far below on the gondola were fastened into place. Harvey was slowly separated from the balloon and his legs curled tight underneath his as they were released. Entirely detached, Harvey was winched down the side of the canvas, preceded by an anxious Rosenhatch.

Back on the gondola it took ten crewmen to lift Harvey and bear him below to a cool, dark berth in the Rosenhatch’s cabin. Rosenhatch covered him in wet blankets. Maxwell emerged from a hiding place and though disdainful of the dampness, casually crossed the centipede’s back and curled up behind his head.

“Night night,” whispered Rosenhatch as he slipped out of the cabin and left Harvey to his dreaming of the world.

Coming Soon: Part 31 – Twisted Up