Caveat: I have not picked up a Game of Thrones novel since #4 back in 2006, right before the notorious hiatus between that and volume five. Even beforCaveat: I have not picked up a Game of Thrones novel since #4 back in 2006, right before the notorious hiatus between that and volume five. Even before then, however, I was growing bored with the series. There wasn’t anyone I really cared about in the cast except for Arya and Jon, and they hardly ever got any “screen time.” And Martin wasn’t exploiting any of the nonmundane elements of his world, like the erratic weather or the wildlings beyond the Wall.
I also haven’t watched a single episode of the TV series, and don’t plan to.
So why – even before I’ve finished this book – am I giving The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones four stars?
Simply because I live for reference books like this and I am very much enjoying reading it.
I have reference works for Terry Brooks’ Shannara, Howard’s Hyboria, Glen Cook’s Black Company world, M.A.R. Barker’s Tekumel (2 versions, the original edition and the revamped), Jordan’s Wheel of Time world, Herbert’s Dune, Peter Hamilton’s Confederation universe, Lucas’ Star Wars universe and Burrough’s Barsoom, as well as several RPG-related worlds like The Forgotten Realms, among others. My favorite part of the Lord of the Rings is the appendices in The Return of the King; and I love the section in R. Scott Bakker’s The Thousandfold Thought that explores his world’s history, philosophies and characters.
And speaking of Tolkien, I have an entire shelf devoted to the 10-volume History of Middle-earth, edited by his son.
I bought the board game based on C.J. Cherryh’s Union/Alliance universe in order to get the back grounder on its history.
Have I mentioned all the Star Trek-related back grounders I’ve accumulated over the decades?*
Suffice it to say that this book was guaranteed at least three stars. It gets four because of the gorgeous artwork, and I’m giving Martin credit for putting a good deal of thought into Westeros. It’s obviously something he’s devoted a lot of creative energy to.
If you’re a fan of the series (both TV and print), than this might be a nice complement to your reading though not an essential buy. Unless – like me – you simply enjoy reading encyclopedias about imaginary worlds, then this is a “must have,” regardless of your opinion about the series.
Personal fun fact: Inspired by Tolkien, at the age of 14 (i.e., nearly 35 years ago) I began creating a world of my own and have been fiddling with it ever since: languages, histories, cultures, personalities, the works. It’s gone through several evolutions, and will continue to do so till the day I die, and I am rather proud of it. It’s books like The World of Ice and Fire that keep me going back to add more texture and flavor (and – yes – I’ve shamelessly stolen ideas from others, though I like to think that I’ve sufficiently altered them to forestall any copyright issues in the unlikely event that any of my ruminations see print).
* I’ve got the the Star Fleet Medical Reference manual so if anyone catches Vegan chorio-meningitis or Rigellian fever, call me....more
This was a very disappointing reference work. I’ve mentioned in other reviews of similar books that I live for this kind of information. I’m not a folThis was a very disappointing reference work. I’ve mentioned in other reviews of similar books that I live for this kind of information. I’m not a follower of the Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice and Fire but I’ve got the encyclopedias. Nor am I a great fan of Peter Hamilton but I’ve got The Confederation Handbook. The same is true of Star Wars. My fanfic version of SW is radically different from the canon but I still have Star Wars: The New Essential Chronology and Star Wars Millennium Falcon Manual.
Don’t get me started on Star Trek. My version may have parted company with canon years ago but I’m still a sucker for the latest reference manual or timeline. (Or RPG supplement – I recently purchased the Klingon and Romulan handbooks for ADB’s role-playing game based on their ST boardgame, Starfleet Battles, which I and my friends spent many happy hours playing back in the ‘80s.)
So I was looking forward to this compendium of Doctor Who characters. I’ve been watching the Doctor since the ‘80s, when the local PBS station began airing the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker – who remains my favorite from the original run). I followed faithfully up through the first episodes of the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker), when college and a dislike of the second Baker’s portrayal diminished my interest in the errant Time Lord. In the years since, I’ve managed to see most – if not all – of Pertwee’s (#3) run, some of Troughton’s (#2), and some of McCoy’s (#7). I watched the 1996 Doctor Who film with Paul McGann, and I liked him though the movie itself isn’t very good. When I stumbled across the reboot with Christopher Eccleston as the ninth regeneration, I was so very pleased (he is my favorite doctor of the new series, and I think I may like him even better than Tom Baker). But then he left after a year, to be followed by David Tennant and Matt Smith. I don’t dislike either actor in the role but I’ve never been taken with their characterizations [note 1]. Now, I am happily anticipating Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. Anyone who watches a lot of British TV will immediately recognize Capaldi. He’s one of those character actors who appears in everything. I first saw him playing Vera, a cross-dressing prostitute, in the original Prime Suspect series; and I most recently caught him playing King Charles II in The Devil’s Whore. And he’s no stranger to Doctor Who, having played the father in the Pompeii episode (“The Fires of Pompeii”). I’m looking forward to his interpretation of the Doctor.
It’s odd but recently I had been contemplating what I found lacking in the new Doctor Who, and I had come to the conclusion that – among other things – we needed a more mature incarnation (Capaldi is in his 50s) [note 2].
All this is rather beside the point and a long-winded way of getting around to why I found this particular book a disappointment, so ahead with the review.
My chief complaint is the author's appalling lack of discrimination. Each entry gets a page. This is fine for characters/races who appear for a single story (cf., the Zygons or the Krillitanes, to name two from the old and new series, respectively). But considering their central role in both series, don’t the Daleks deserve a bit more? And certainly the various Doctors deserve more than a page that is mostly white space and factoids?
As for this let-down, I can only recommend the book to Whovian completists (and even here, it’ll disappoint, since it doesn’t cover all of the myriad races and characters who’ve popped up since the first episode in 1963).
NOTE 1: If I were to commend any role Tennant’s played it would be his Hamlet more than his Doctor. I picked up Tennant’s Hamlet a few years ago not expecting much based on my experience with Doctor Who but was blown away by the performance.
NOTE 2: Assuming Capaldi is not the final Doctor, I was also thinking that BBC should push the envelope for his next regenerations. A nonwhite Doctor? (For some reason, I keep seeing Idris Elba in my head.)
And why couldn’t the Doctor regenerate as a woman? Alas, these will likely remain unrealized dreams limited to my fanfic version of the Whovian universe.
But speaking of canon. In the old Doctor Who, Time Lords were limited to 12 regenerations. In fact, one of the Master’s many crimes was stealing bodies so he could live beyond his final incarnation. Will the new series simply ignore the old rule or will they contrive some means around it? I look forward to the answer....more
Picked this one up at the used-book store I frequent on the same fishing expedition that netted The Lucky Strike. I always feel bad if I can't find soPicked this one up at the used-book store I frequent on the same fishing expedition that netted The Lucky Strike. I always feel bad if I can't find something there to buy, and not just because they're a used-book store in a world where that species is increasingly rare but also because they were my source for many of the Sylvia Townsend Warner and T.F. Powys volumes I own.
I figure it's the least I can do to help keep them in business....more
A Dictionary of Made-Up Languages is a very disappointing reference work. The author’s overbroad definition of “constructed language” includes everythA Dictionary of Made-Up Languages is a very disappointing reference work. The author’s overbroad definition of “constructed language” includes everything from Quenya, the language of Tolkien’s High Elves, to Krakozhian, the language of the mythical country Tom Hanks comes from in “The Terminal.” One is a fully developed language with a grammar, syntax and vocabulary that fans learn. They maintain websites, write theses and converse in the language. The other, as far as I know, is a collection of Slavic-flavored words used to give an already-forgotten movie verisimilitude.
And regardless of an entry’s scale, none get more than three pages, and oftentimes much of what’s there is irrelevant. Let’s take Krakozhian as an example. Every entry is potentially divided into 12 sections (not all conlangs can supply information for every section):
• Spoken By • Documented By • Behind the Words • Derivation of the Language • Characteristics of the Language • A Taste of the Language • Some Useful Phrases • Numbering System • Philological Fact(s) • In Their Own Words • If You’re Interested in Learning the Language • For More Information
Krakozhian supplies information (loosely defined) in seven categories. Who speaks it? People of Krakozhia, of whom we meet one – Hank’s character Viktor Navorski. Documented by? Steven Spielberg directed. What’s behind the words? A summary of the film’s plot. From whence is Krakozhian derived? Apparently it’s an ersatz Bulgarian. Linguistic characteristics? It sounds Slavic. Philological facts [Note 1]? Viktor learns English while staying in the terminal; and the story is similar to an Iranian’s plight at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. To learn more, check out the film’s page on IMDb.
I fail to understand why there’s an entry for Krakozhian.
I could go on for any number of entries but I’ve made my point. The author lacks a discriminating eye [Note 2]. This would have been a far more useful and interesting book if he had focused on more-developed conlangs.
There was one omission I found odd considering the dross Rogers included and that’s no entry for M.A.R. Barker’s Tsolyani. Here we have a language for which fans have created fanzines and websites, and for which there’s a rich corpus about its grammar and literature, yet it doesn’t even get the page that Gobbledegook, the language of J.K. Rowling’s goblins, merits. Similarly, I question why the author mentions only Verdurian of the many languages Mark Rosenfelder has created for his fantasy world Almea. Rosenfelder devotes a great amount of energy to developing realistic conlangs, with detailed grammars and snippets of literature, but Verdurian gets a page and a half, mostly fluff.
Perhaps I’m misunderstanding Rogers’ purpose in putting this information together but I didn’t find much of use or real interest here so I can’t recommend it.
Note 1: I’m not sure but I believe the author’s grasp of “philological” is fatally flawed. Another example of a “philological fact” found in “The Old Tongue” entry is “[b]efore The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan wrote Conan the Barbarian novels” [Note 1a].
Note 1a: I should mention that the aforementioned Conan novels are some of the best in the post-REH stable. It was a literary reboot of a series that had been languishing in the unimaginative hands of Lin Carter for far too long.
Note 2: This is the second reference work I’ve read recently where the author exhibits such a lack of judgment (see my review of Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia). Neither seems able to distinguish important material from drivel....more
This is the kind of reference book I love to spend hours poring over, opening it at random and absorbing the information.
The authors follow Manetho'sThis is the kind of reference book I love to spend hours poring over, opening it at random and absorbing the information.
The authors follow Manetho's ancient organization of Egyptian history into 31 dynasties - from Narmer (c. 3150 BC) to Darius III (332 BC) and also the Macedonian Dynasty that ruled until Rome conquered the Nile Valley in 30 BC. Despite the fact that this schema is very artificial and arbitrary, it remains the framework upon which modern Egyptology rests and just about the only organizing principle general readers are familiar with.
Each dynastic account is divided into three sections: Historical Background, which gives a brief overview of the period; Royal Family, which attempts to unravel the complex genealogies of the Pharaohs; and Brief Lives, which lists the known members of the dynasty and their probable relationships to the kings and their roles in society.
And - no - there are no space aliens or Atlantean engineers carving the Sphinx 10,000 years ago.
Some random impressions:
One, Egypt is old! When Solon, the Athenian lawgiver and poet, visited Egypt c. 600 BC, he was as far removed from the 1st Dynasty as we are from him (i.e., c. 2500 years). The so-called New Kingdom period began 800 years before Rome was founded in (traditionally) 753 BC.
Two, while I'm astonished at how much we know about Egypt's earliest history, there's still much to learn.* For example, we have a fairly complete list of 1st and 2nd dynasty kings but we have few clues as to what they did or even how long they reigned. There's an approximate date for Narmer at 3150 BC but the only reign dates the authors felt confidant enough to give were those of the last king of the second dynasty, Khasekhemwy, 2611-2584.
Many of the "Brief Lives" entries are little more than, for example, "Khenterka Depicted as a child in the tomb of his mother, Meresankh III" or "Nysuheqat (KSon)** Owner of tomb 964 H8 at Helwan."
I would love to have a copy of this for my very own but - sadly - I must return it soon to the library so that others might learn a little bit about this fascinating civilization.
* E.g., this recent news item about the discovery of 17 "lost" pyramids.
** There's an interesting chart listing the various titles used throughout Egyptian history. "KSon" refers to a sa-nesu, a King's Son, most often just what it implies - the biological offspring of the Pharaoh - but it could also be an honorific and has been found associated with royal granddaughters....more
I've enjoyed following his website for a couple or three years now - http://www.zompist.com/ - and I downloaded/printed the original (much shorter) veI've enjoyed following his website for a couple or three years now - http://www.zompist.com/ - and I downloaded/printed the original (much shorter) version of this to aid me in my own conlang forays. ___________________________________________________________
Review will follow as soon as I polish my conlang sufficiently. ___________________________________________________________
I may have mentioned in passing in other reviews that some of my favorite parts in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion are the appendices where Tolkien writes about the languages of Middle Earth. As a boy, I would pore over the notes on pronunciation and the index of names, making up words and names for my own use in my own imaginary worlds. Now, my older self has most of Christopher Tolkien’s volumes of his father’s notes, which include the only extensive essay Tolkien pere ever wrote on any of his invented tongues – “Lowdham’s Report on the Adunaic Language,” Sauron Defeated: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part Four. My older self is thrilled as well that Al Gore invented the Internet because I discovered there the hominin species homo sapiens geekus conlangis - the community of men and women who spend far too much of their free time making up imaginary languages comprising all the elements of the real things.
Mark Rosenfelder’s Language Construction Kit is an Idiot’s Guide to making those imaginary languages.
Part of the audience is the gaming community, particularly those gamemasters who want to create worlds that sound realistic. To that end, Rosenfelder gives some rough-and-ready guidelines for creating word lists and affixes that can be used to make names and short sentences for role-playing purposes. The second half of the book’s audience is the hardcore conlanger who may or may not be creating a language for any reason beyond the pure pleasure of the exercise. For those, he has chapters on sounds, vocabularies, grammar, semantics, pragmatics, language families and writing systems, and an appendix where he presents one of his own invented languages, Kebreni.
I wouldn’t recommend this book for the “casual” conlanger. Not because it wouldn’t be useful but because the author has had a shorter version on his website* for several years and that’s sufficient for someone who wants to avoid the dungeon-exploring party made up of “Boris,” “Bear Who Hates Honey,” “Wanda” and “Presto the Magician” adventuring in “Angland.”
Hardcore conlangers (especially those who are just beginning) should find a wealth of useful information and tips on making their languages more than just English with different words, however. Rosenfelder assumes the reader has a fair knowledge of linguistics but provides a useful bibliography for people who want to catch up. There is one thing that would have made the book better, IMO, and that is a CD with examples of pronunciations. It’s all well and good to describe tongue positions, breathing, and the difference between a high and a low vowel but I have trouble “hearing” them. After years of reading various grammars and linguistics texts, I still can’t easily identify alveolars from alveolar palatals or an affricative from a fricative.
For several years now, I’ve been putzing around with my own conlang, meleke, born as part of an imaginary world originally created for my Dungeons & Dragons buddies back in the day. I have a fairly extensive wordlist and grammar notes but I’ve always had trouble finding a verb system I like. However, under the pressure of writing this review, I have managed to create one that I mostly like and have used it to translate the quintessential translation text for all “serious” conlangers – the Babel Text from Genesis 11:1-9:
Lemmonas osura tanda mava set tulonas tamenna aidar maknar. Rhojir tar si ratha, dennonas khellen shada si han SHINAR, kepsonas tamenna not. Afentonas intar tamenna – Fenathat menna tarmen set sajathat forsai menna disa. Tulonas tamenna nar amnen tarmen set nar bratho tumo. Tisona LORD aprir eserva set ostoro set arthir khellen khoten. Afentona tamen – Sathas tamenna sot. Soterathas tamenna lammas mava sot tanda mava fir nanta. Noyen faffas tamenna shenta ursa. Afentona tamen – Ismaffat set allanaffat tandar taralle. Uprathas tamenna kel afentir intar tamenna. Gatrona LORD atarat alo tar. Duronas arthir tamenna esevra. Apellonas khellen esevra BABEL preset not kadhir LORD glavo tandave alove. Gatrona LORD kar not atarat alo tar.
It’s still pretty rough – I haven’t developed the language enough to fully capture subtle connotations – and I’m still not entirely happy with the verbs but overall I think it’s coming along nicely. My problem is that I don’t have the patience to stick with it for extended lengths of time; I fiddle around with it for an hour one day, come back a week later, and then let it lay fallow for a few weeks.
But back to the book – This is definitely a highly specialized niche read. If you are a conlanger, I say, “check it out”; if you’re not, shake your head in bemusement, if you must, but devote your reading time to something else.
* The website contains a whole bunch of fascinating articles and not solely anent conlangs. I have especially enjoyed his essays on Asimov's "psychohistory" and his reviews of the entire Foundation series, including the non-Asimovian, and best IMO, Psychohistorical Crisis....more