Stardust Review

Tristan Thorn is in over his head. He’s a made a promise to Victoria Forester, the supposed love of his life: He will venture forth into the world and bring her back a fallen star. Such a promise is normally nothing more than romantic and poetic gesture (Victoria obviously never took him seriously), but this boy meant it literally. You could blame it on Stardust’s fairy tale setting, the sheltered life in the village, or sheer teenage stupidity. Regardless, Tristan packs up his things and journeys into the strange and magical world of Faerie, fully expecting to fulfill his ridiculous vow. Needless to say, things don’t go exactly as planned.

SPOILERS

The story starts off strong with the introduction of Wall. It’s got the usual assortment of townsfolk going about their daily lives. Working on the farm, getting drinks at the tavern, a little romance, the whole bit. What keeps it from being a quaint (if cliched) village in 19th Century England, however, it also serves as a gateway into the realm of Faerie. The image of a tiny opening in an ancient wall – and the temptation of the idyllic meadow beyond it –  makes the setting seem more mysterious and otherworldly. You’ve got to wonder if the citizens of Wall realize they’re living on the border of a magical realm. It could be a case of selective obliviousness; Mr. Bromios is practically taken for granted as the innkeeper and bartender, despite his striking appearance and lack of aging. Then again, Dunstan – the primary character in the first couple of chapters – is shown to be rather gullible. It’s interesting to see how magic works from the perspective of a normal person; he doesn’t even realize he’s been enchanted and seduced, while the readers can only watch from the sidelines and hope nothing bad happens to him. He’s a little wiser after the 17-year time skip, though Tristan seems to inherited his father’s old traits.

What struck me most about the book wasn’t the subject matter, but the brevity of it. I’ll admit that I’m not the most well-versed in fantasy; I’ve a couple of Gaiman’s other works, slogged through the Wheel of Time and gotten my fill of Tolkien, but nothing else. I was expecting some incredibly long-winded descriptions of everything, but Tristan’s adventure starts just over 50 pages in and ends 200 pages later. The pacing remains steady and brisk throughout the novel; locations seem to be more for the sake of moving the narrative along, and nothing else. While I can appreciate this approach – the characters deserve more focus anyway – it just comes off as a series of missed opportunities. Who wouldn’t want to see more surreal days in Wall, or dive into the political intrigue of Stormhold’s succession crisis? There are little glimpses of Faerie’s amazing world – the ghostly brothers acting like a pseudo-Greek chorus is pretty hilarious – but there could’ve been so much more.

The secondary plot of Primus and Septimus trying to outwit and kill each other for the throne is interesting enough to merit its own series, but it ends abruptly to keep the narrative focused on Tristan and Yvaine. They’re fine as a couple, though anyone could’ve predicted they’d end up together. Their character development ties into the novel’s themes of duty, desire, and sacrifice; Tristan initially sees Yvaine as merely an object needed to fulfill his promise, but gradually becomes less self-centered and realizes his mistakes. His brief, tear-jerking return to Victoria demonstrates how much he’s matured. Yvaine only stays with Tristan because he saved her life, but eventually grows to love him; she becomes Stormhold’s immortal ruler and Tristan’s widow, never returning to the sky. It’s bittersweet, but fitting. Septimus wanted Primus dead, yet he is obligated to avenge his murder; he attempts to uphold his family’s honor via underhanded means, and suffers a karmic death for it. Even The Witch-Queen and Semele are bound by the rules governing their magic, no matter how much of it they throw around. Lady Una’s triumphant use of these rules at the end is one of the novel’s highest points.

But it’s not enough, though. Unless you’re going into this looking for a brief adult fairy tale (it was originally conceived as a story book), Stardust will leave you wanting more. More depth, descriptions, everything. In the “about the book” section, Gaiman even calls it, “the sequel to a book I haven’t written.” It boils the plot down to the essentials: a handful of characters, their motivations and growth, and the consequences of their actions. Its complex theming and magical setting keep it just interesting enough to finish. Stardust’s most creative ideas, much like the eponymous stars, shine brilliantly for a moment before fading back into the text. Maybe that was the idea all along.

Advertisements

The Winged Not-Quite Victory

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about art and life. Specifically, what would happen if you’re favorite work of art suddenly came to life. In my case, it would be…well, messy. Very messy. The Winged Victory of Samothrace stands majestically at the top of the Daru staircase at The Louvre. I saw it in person in 2007, and the pictures don’t come close to capturing its awesomeness. But if that ancient marvel suddenly sprung to life? It would probably topple down that huge flight of stairs, crushing dozens of tourists along the way. Since it lacks arms and a head, it probably wouldn’t be able to regain its balance or bearings. Unless it has some weird form of echolocation buried deep within its stony chest. Also, not having a head might be a good thing, because it would spare onlookers from the screams that would come from the suddenly self-aware monstrosity. How would it breathe? Does living stone even need oxygen? Assuming it doesn’t, it still wouldn’t be able to move very well. The sculpture is five and half meters tall; those wings look amazing, but there’s no way they’d be capable of flight. How durable is parian marble, anyway? They might just break off. In the end, the sculpture would end up like a wild animal tapped inside a room: feebly crashing into walls and objects in a frantic attempt to escape. I can just imagine an aged museum curator, armed with a hammer and a chisel, solemnly approaching and putting the thing out of its misery. It’d be like Old Yeller, but with classic art, French police, and tourists with camera phones.

Wow, that got grim fast.

Okay, let’s assume that the sculpture can actually function like a living creature and interact with people. The Winged Victory was designed to honor both the gods and a sea battle. The base represents a ship’s prow, giving the image of a goddess coming down to a victorious fleet. Just look at that pose: she’s graceful, even when the ocean breeze is making her robes ripple. The sculpture is also called Nike of Samothrace, which is probably the more accurate title; Nike was the Greek goddess of victory, strength, and speed. No wonder the shoe brand was named after her. She flew around battlefields and rewarded the victors with glory and fame. So if she were revived in modern times, she’d make a beeline for the nearest armed conflict. She’d probably have to wait a while, though; there are nearly as many wars anymore, and the relative few still going have no clear victors. Maybe she’ll settle for the World Series instead.

I Warped Reality To Believe In Magic

Hey, folks. Happy New Year! Today’s Daily Prompt is all about magic. As in, what kind magical powers you’d like to have. I’ve enjoyed more than enough literature and anime to know what direction I’d go in. If I had the power to do any kind of magic, I’d be a full-blown Reality Warper. It’s just like it sounds: I’d have the ability to create, destroy, or alter reality with just a thought. I’d be like Q on Next Generation, just hopefully less of a pain to those around me. Or maybe like Aladdin’s Genie. I’d try to be a force for good, like redesigning ecosystems to support life and food crops. Or maybe I’d develop a subatomic particle that allows water to become a viable fuel. I could use my insights into the fabric of space-time to figure out complex equations and give humanity a huge technological boost. I’d make it so I didn’t need oxygen or radiation protection for interstellar travel, then go about exploring the cosmos. I could figure out exactly what happens when you get sucked into a black hole, or if aliens really exist. The possibilities would be endless!

…And that’s the problem, too. If you can change reality by just thinking, imagine the kind of toll that would take on a human mind. It’s horrifying when deconstructed. What if you accidentally kill someone by erasing them from reality? If they’re completely gone, doesn’t that mean that your memories would be affected too? What happens if you change the subatomic makeup of hydrogen to solve a temporary problem? Wouldn’t that alter and potentially destroy everything else? Consider Haruhi Suzumiya; since she’s unaware of her powers, the other characters have to keep her entertained lest she accidentally destroy the universe! Then there’s the whole problem with things like identity and loyalty. In the Watchmen series, Dr. Manhattan could manipulate matter and was used by the government as the ultimate weapon in the Vietnam War. But since he could comprehend things on an entirely different level, he slowly lost his humanity. At least he knew he wasn’t a god; plenty of other characters with his kind of power went insane and declared themselves deities…

Ugh, this is getting messy.

Okay, first order of business when I get these magical powers: Give myself a mind capable of understanding all of the potential my powers can create, foresight of the consequences therein, and the discipline to keep my mind from accidentally tearing the fabric of reality. That shouldn’t be too hard…right?

Have A Lovely Leaf Week!

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about festivities. As in, the festivities for your very own, universally-accepted holiday. I’m not much of the personal celebratory type – I haven’t done anything for my birthday in years – so a holiday in my honor would probably be pretty boring. At first, I thought about having it on the autumnal equinox, because…well, autumn is my favorite time of year. But then I realized: it’d be much cooler if it had something to do with my own spiritual tree, like Yggdrasil. A single leaf falls once a year, imbued with  enough magic to power and feed the entire planet for a week. As it hits the ground and its powers dissipates, an unmistakable flash light envelopes the sky, signaling for the festivities to begin. A cheer roars across the planet as mere mortals are swept up in the spectacle.

…Or something. It looks amazing in my imagination.

The main symbol of this week-long festival would be the leaf of a California redwood, as befitting of my homeland. Each individual would be able to craft one – and only one – using whatever materials they can find. Paper mache, platinum, wool, dental floss, whatever you can use creatively. If the family is large, they might have a whole row of them lined up. You could take along as you travel, taking pictures of it in front of exotic or famous locales. If you’re stuck at home, your creations would be posted either on the front door – weather and/or lack of crime permitting – or hanging from your bookshelf. It ties into the other fundamental part of the holiday: reading. Not only do you get the week off to read your favorite book, but you’re actively encouraged to trade books with someone else. You get to read something new, thus growing your tree of knowledge!

If you prefer cooking for the holidays, there would plenty of specialty dishes to make. It’s just got to be either really sweet, or really spicy. Homemade spumoni is the one of the greatest desserts ever, and I’d want festival-goers to trade recipes and invent something tasty and creative. If you can’t find the ingredients, then any form of the classic Cookies & Cream would suffice. Roasted, spicy octopus (seriously, it’s delicious) would be one of the main courses, along with substantial helpings of chicken and salads practically dripping with scotch bonnets and jalepños. Because you’re not a hardcore leaf maker/book exchanger unless you’re burning your tongue at the same time. If you can’t handle the heat, then at least partake in some amazing sourdough bread from the Acme Bread Company.

Oh, and one last thing. At the beginning of the week, each person as of legal age is magically granted a round-trip teleportation to any place of his or her choosing. Anywhere on Earth is up for grabs, no matter how impractical. Imagine spending a week in Lake Tahoe, Machu Picchu, or Tokyo! You’d get to see new places and trade books! However, this impromptu vacation can’t be used as an escape device; as soon as the festival ends, you’re whisked back to where you started. The magic burns out on its own, so you can’t save them up over the years. You’ve got to make the experience count. Also, the accommodations would need to be planned on your own ahead of time. Dress warm!

Daily Prompt: Now You See Me, Or: Teleportation Consternation

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about super powers again. This one’s a little more specific, though: what would you do with the power to appear or disappear at will? Now, this one’s kind of tricky because the extent of the power and its consequences aren’t discussed. The logistics alone would make me hesitate to use the power at all. Oh sure, it looks cool…on paper, anyway. You probably think I’m just an unimaginative naysayer, but let’s think about this. There are several aspects of the power that need to be considered:

-How long does the power stay in effect? Will you have to hold your breath like Shadowcat?

-Do you stay in the same place when you disappear? Do you just turn invisible? That’s not very helpful against, you know, an oncoming car. Or swords. Or anything deadly that you couldn’t possibly avoid anyway.

-If you’re capable of traveling distances while using your power, is there a range? How far is it? Can you do Bleach-style Flash Steps? Can you do some globe-hopping?

-If you do travel, how do you get through objects? Do you become intangible? Is there a portal system? Do you have to travel through a demonic alternate dimension a la Nightcrawler?

Also, if you’re traveling distances, shouldn’t you know exactly where you’re going? How are the destinations determined? Doesn’t the Earth’s rotation factor into that? What happens if you let your mind wander and reappear in a chunk of concrete? How exactly is the human mind supposed to develop the superhuman levels of spatial cognizance to do that? Do you practice in an open field or something?

-What about the conservation of momentum? If you decide to vanish out of a moving vehicle, then won’t you crash-land when you reappear? You really think teleporting out of a falling airplane and back into your safe little apartment is going to save you?

-If you’re not intangible, then that power isn’t going to help you get out of most situations. Especially in crowded, populated, camera-filled areas. If someone sees you disappear in front of them, they’re going to freak out. Have fun getting your mystical mug plastered all over YouTube, and then being chased by the government for “science.” Or amateur ghost hunters. Maybe both.

-Do your powers extend to your clothes? What happens if you decide to disappear, but only your physical body vanishes? You’ll leave a pile of laundry/traceable evidence behind! Didn’t that happen on Alex Mack? Oh, and I hope you have a good explanation for when you randomly reappear naked somewhere. Or do you have to wear a skin-tight undersuit, like the heroes in Animorphs?

-How much concentration and/or energy is required to use the power? Does it effect your metabolism, like The Flash? Will it kill you if it’s used too much? If you don’t focus enough, will you leave body parts behind? Didn’t that happen on the Star Trek transporters a couple dozen times?!

…Oh, dear. This is getting messy.

Look, teleportation would only be useful if it didn’t place enormous strain on your body, let you develop some kind of supplementary super-spatial cognizance, and allowed you to transport foreign objects as well. Those criteria in play, I would use it to explore the world. Reach far-flung cultures and get lost within them. See the world from all its peaks. Circumnavigate the globe in the blink of an eye…But that’s not all. There are practical uses too; I could use it to do scouting and mapping on scientific expeditions. If the range is far enough, I could revolutionize space exploration! When disaster strikes, I could bring medical aid and resources on an unprecedented scale. Or set up my own product shipment service. You think Amazon’s delivery drones are cool? I could teleport that Kindle with the snap of a finger. It’d be like magic.