Saturday 30 May 2015

Silky Strength

I'm really pleased with this photo. It's a still from the video below, my second attempt at what is a relatively simple routine. My first attempt was a disaster: it was as though my brain and body weren't talking and, in the process of their falling out, had both forgotten how to do any of the moves. You can see a little of that lack of co-ordination as I start, and I reached this point and was still suffering a lack of self-faith. Rather than giving up on myself like I might have a year ago, I found that little strand of steel I've earned through working hard here and having a job I love. I grabbed it, pulled it and pulled my body long, putting extension along my arm and out through my hand, through my back, through the point of my toe and (less successful) through my upper leg.

It wasn't a completely magical cure - I still made a bit of a hash of transitions that I know I can do more neatly - but I felt my confidence and pleasure return. Then, when I watched the video back and grabbed this shot, I felt pretty damn fantastic.

The other part of the video I want to comment on is the cross-leg release (approx 45-53s). This is a move I've not done for many, many months. It's one of the first moves I learnt, but my hypermobile knees meant I couldn't do it without holding the top foot - and sometimes not even then (my top knee slips sideways which is uncomfortable, disconcerting, icky to watch and hard to get out from). I think you can just about hear my teacher (the lovely Emily) telling me to hold my foot, but I knew I was in a good position and I've been working hard to build up those muscles so I was sure I could do it and delighted to be right.

There's a lot of work to do to tidy this up still - that drop at the end and getting into it in particular I have done much better before - but the more I watch the video the more I find to be pleased with.

Friday 29 May 2015

Aberrant - Blood Red Carpet

I gave up, for now, trying to write to my parents. Something Alastair had said kept coming back to me, that novas aren't human. That we become obssessed, and that that obssession could become dangerous. By being aware of our oddities, we have the best chance to stay in control - to stay human-like. Well, I can recognise in myself a growing need for information - and a growing need to keep that information secret, exclusive to my close circle at the heart of the Initiative. I feel a little uneasy at stealing that algorithm, for all the good it will bring to us. I'm anxious about how this will affect me. Christ, I put tracking devices in all my non-nova friends just in case they get kidnapped, and didn't tell them in case the kidnapper could read minds. It seemed perfectly rational at the time, but now... now I feel a little uneasy. I drowned myself in science.

Holly was very excited about Adam's premiere - he pointed out we would be entering via the red carpet so she, Stef and I went dress shopping. Steve decided to stay with Alastair, and I was surprised how well he kept up. I assume Alastair dumbed himself down, but for a baseline Steve is smart. Really smart. And handsome. He's incredible.

... I think I'm getting used to being in love.

Alastair teleported us over to the New York Wharldorf Hotel, where we joined Adam and family (and entourage...). Cesar, Adam's father, was there with his twin brother's daughter, Isabella - adopted and raised by Cesar and to Adam a sister, because her father is a cruel man. She's a few years younger than Holly.

Another unexpected attendee was Jen - Jen as Jennifer St John, wife of Sir (Dr) Benedict St John and CEO of St John Enterprises, coming to the premiere with her 'family' in their roles as VIPs. It always feels a little strange to see her out formally, especially since Vienna and Benedict's ... death. So there she was, sitting nearby with her strange substitute family. The Benedict look-alike is remarkable - you'd need nova senses and to have known our Benedict really well to realise this wasn't him. And the kid playing Alastair has proved to be a good choice - he looks a lot like you'd imagine if you didn't know. Oh, but it was strange and sad to watch Alastair greet his mother as though they were strangers.

We prepared en masse and made our way to the fleet of limos and up the red carpet.

Adam had a whale of a time, signing autographs and taking selfies. At one point, the crowd burst forth and mobbed him - the security guards soon had it under control, and no one was hurt, but his watch did go missing. Steve enjoyed it too, fooling many people into thinking he was a famous film star. The rest of us took it a little more carefully; shyly, maybe.

And then.

Oh god, and then.

Just as we were getting to the door, there was a small noise. I thought it was a car backfiring at first, with the glitz and the glamour around us.


Turned and saw a group of 25 people clearing a path towards the carpet, one lowering a gun. The leader pushed his way onto the carpet and time seemed to slow as he opened his jacket, screamed "No more novas" and triggered the explosive vest. In the ensuing, confusing split-seconds, Adam and I tried to push people to safety and I saw Jen hold 'Benedict''s shoulder as a forcefield appeared to erupt from him. I barely had time to register how much she'd been keeping from me as I got myself and others into its safety. As I glanced back to see whom I'd missed, I realised Adam was among them. He's not as tough as me and as the blood and concussion and shrapnel flew I didn't think he could possibly survive. I don't think he would have, if he hadn't been shielding Isabella. I was screaming with the effort it took him to save himself in order to save his sister.

The adoring crowd was gone, a red mist fringed by a screaming mass in its place.
Adam slumped to a bloody mess but I could see the damage knitting. A quick glance reassured me the others were ok - Jen and Alastair had this, and Cesar was running for Isabella - so I raced to the sound of gunfire: the remaining 24 had coralled those trying to escape and were gunning them down. They'd made their anti-nova sentiment felt, which reinforced my desire not to hurt them: I didn't want to give them further cause to hate. They were split, 12-a-side, so I ran along, grabbing and throwing the machine guns faster than they could react. As I neared the last of the first group, I saw a limo flying past to crash into 6 on the other side - Adam, I hoped. Not impressed he was killing the bad guys, but glad he was back on his feet and always good to know he has my back. Felt a couple of handgun bullets ping off my back and glanced round to see Adam had grabbed another limo and was using it as a club to take out the re-armed guys behind me. I swung round to the next group, grabbed their weapons and flung them away, then Adam was there. I could see he could deal with the few left, so I turned my attention to the wounded. The few gunmen who'd survived shot themselves and each other as Adam closed on them, and I felt less bad for the damage he'd inflicted.

As I took charge and arranged the less wounded to help me with the more wounded, Alastair arrived with Jean. He rested his hand on Jean's shoulder briefly - I could feel the flow of quantum, opened my eyes again to see what was happening. A white glow of quantum was bubbling over Jean, trickling along Alastair's arm and soaking into him. I nodded - I've seen him do something similar before, borrowing Jean's healing powers to help out. Jean staggered slightly but was soon following my lead as we did what we could. I quickly realised I could use my power over fire to cauterise the most desperate cases - it worked well, although one man will have a handprint scar over the bullet hole for the rest of his life. At least he survived.

Alastair, meanwhile, was stood in the middle, right arm stretched out and that white glow was flowing from him, flowing out and hovering above the wounded beside him for several metres. It slowly settled over them and I saw their wounds knit as though Jean was knelt beside each... The effort was tiring for Alastair and he left as the ambulances arrived. Adam arranged them to maximum affect and I was relieved that the doctors and paramedics were prepared to take my instructions. It was a worse situation than any I've seen before, but as a human, this was the sort of worst case scenario I ws trained for, the kind of pressure I thrived under, and I knew what I was doing.

With the professionals there, Adam realised there was little more that he could do and was keen to reassure himself that his family were ok. I let him go with pleasure, knowing they'd be worried about him too. Jean and I returned to our triage and healing duties, but I could see he was tiring - his quantum white glow was fading and stuttering until he was too exhausted for even mundane doctoring and I sent him back too. At this point, I had enough respite to check my phone to find a reassuring message from Alastair that he'd taken everyone back to the hotel and that Holly and Steve were safe.

Police came and waited for a convenient moment to take my statement. A bit of cameradery and chatter convinced them to keep me posted.

I kept working until the last patient was taken away to a hospital, then sped back to the hotel. The EU-like fibre Benedict had created for me cleaned the blood and grime from me as I worked so I didn't feel the need for a hot shower that would normally hit me after a shift like this, but I did want a strong, black coffee and the receptionist was kind enough to oblige. The TV behind her showed the carnage and I was grateful to her for realising that it had affected me.

Adam knew I was close and told me everyone had piled into his suite. They'd grabbed all the pillows, cushions and blankets they could find and made a fantastic flump-pile in the middle of the room. The TV was on, but turned down low enough only those of us with nova-sharp hearing could hear. There was food and laughter of recovering adults. Isabella, I noticed, remained still and quiet, although Adam was looking after her, and Nicky was delightfully oblivious. Hard to remember it's only a week since she turned 2. Holly was also badly shaken, but trying to hide it. I squirmed my way through the pile to her, put an arm round her and pulled her close. Steve bundled up the otherside and stroked my hair. He seemed remarkably calm, coping better than anyone in the room.

And suddenly it hit me: we'd moved in together. We owned a house together in Cambridge and we were living together. I thought I hid my shock, but he must have felt me tense, because he chuckled, stroked my hair again and knew what I was thinking - reassured me it would be ok. I relaxed - made myself relax - but was still on edge. The whole evening had me on edge. 

He left the room to phone his parents and reassure them he and Holly were ok. I've still not met them, so tried listening out for clues as to what they were like, but heard nothing, which surprised me. I quickly text my friends and family - even my dad, who replied to say he was glad I was ok. The only person I didn't hear back from was Bill; I did my best not to worry about him. The time of it, he was probably conked out for the few hours he got between closing the Styx and opening the Skiff. But I haven't stopped worrying about him since his girlfriend walked out. Holly snuggled in closer.

I didn't say anything  significant to Jen, but caught her eye and she nodded, mouthed 'tomorrow'. I don't want her to think I'm angry with her - I've no doubt she has very good reasons for not telling even I about her powers - but I'd be lying if I didn't say I was a little hurt.

And that's how we passed the evening. The humans went to bed as they grew tired - the younger ones being carried, sound asleep - and we joined them briefly, but neither Adam nor I slept well. We met early in the hotel lounge to watch the breakfast news with other unsleeping guests. As anticipated, the attack was a major story, and someone had come forward to claim responsibility, a notorious group who hated novas and particularly the nova influence on media. Novas inevitably dominate cinema and the charts, but these want to bring baselines back to the fore. Hideous in its irony, then, that it was Adam's film highlighting this issue that they chose to desecrate.

There was an almost impercetible shift and Alastair was beside us. We would be holding a press conference that evening: it was time, he said, for us to come out of the shadows.

The world shifts again.

Pathfinder Interlude - The Temple of Rovagug (Jvala's Journal)

Following on from Tanna's Journal covering the session I missed, we return to the remains of Rovagug's temple, as noted by Jvala. Short update because it was a combat heavy session :)

Flash and Cinder finally agreed to enter this creepy place and we joined the others as they reached another door - Zabeel opened it quickly and threw in on of his 'Ezekiel-enhanced' smoke bombs.V. effective: v. loud, lots of lightning. Tanna summoned fecking massive sentient earth - kobolds went 'squish'. There were some others in there, a dwarf and a guy with a snake's head.

Earth elementals v. good at fighting kobolds.

Found more of those ancient coins.

2 doors further down - library opposite room with water sound. Decided to fight library first - some magic-types in there. We made sure they knew they were dead.

Battle tired us enough others decided we should rest there - barricadable. Bad idea. Room creepy. Salvaged some books, charts, stuff like that. Sam was reading up on Baphomet's realm. Tanna found book on Sarkozia, before it was the World Wound. Says "the veil" there has always been particularly weak. Doesn't explain "veil". Says barbarians particularly revered "andocurava" - some kind of creature? Makes mention of Arodan's familiar Meioelvea - a "paradigm of the species".

The voices are louder here, more insidious. The others are making me sleep here with the undead bodies. Won't let me burn them - don't realise they could get back up. And many of these books... can't imagine Desnae would be happy with so much evil getting into the world. But they won't let me burn.  

Next ... morning? ... explored other room. Stumbled through door and landed in lake of blood. Blood like a fountain. A room filled with fountain. Person in the blood: black hair, black skin, unnatural glowing beauty. Blood poured down to form armour. Great axe strapped to back - pink crystal turned red as dipped in blood. Countered magic and fought well. Didn't feel like normal body - living or undead - when struck. Blood flowed from lake back up figure and knitted wounds. Eventually my sword struck something in the body - aimed and hit it again. Shattered like glass. Body exploded in shower of blood. No idea what that was - if in Pathfinder Archives, please advise.

*Having a friendly druid nearby is useful when you need showers.* 

Thursday 28 May 2015

Pathfinder Interlude - Tanna's Journal

From the Journal of Tanna Freespirit:
Our latest line of questioning and investigation had us lead by the renowned bard Grayson Silversong right into the main throne room of Brevoy. We arrived using a scribed arcane circle lead by Grayson that caused us to teleport the vast distance far faster than a bird could fly, a method, in hindsight, warranted at least some forewarning and preparation with Brevoy itself. After a brief show of force that reminds me of a wolf snapping its teeth at an intruder, we were lead to a chamber away from the alarmed king.

The wizard Malliard met us in the chamber after a short while and we spoke at length upon the news, about the disappearance of our tome-worthy subjects, the Earls. We soon moved onto the more pressing matter of the corruption and aging of the Star Towers, as outlined in my last journal entries. As expected, this news added burden onto Malliard’s mind and he gave us a little more information about the situation of the towers and their importance in keeping the god Rovagug sealed away. Unless something was done to stop his escape, the best case scenario is the destruction of the world. Given what we know there is little that can be done, but an option has presented itself, to investigate the ruins of a temple to Rovagug to the east. Malliard explained that the place was almost certainly dangerous and that there was no guarantee that we would return alive, but given what is at stake I knew in my heart that I could not ignore the threat and agreed to go.

The next few days blurred into meetings and planning as we prepared for the trip to the ruins. Scrolls of resurrection were provided to me for emergencies, should one of us fall in battle. While this goes against my beliefs of the cycle of life, I reluctantly agreed due to the shear importance of our task. Should the towers fall, the cycle of life across all of the world will end.

With a spell from Malliard we made our way most of the way towards the ruins of the temple, traveling for another few hours east before the forest surrounding the temple came into view, the sight of what still lingers in my mind’s eye. The trees stood black, appearing as if burnt by a colossal fire. It was just in this view that I decided to take the time to commune with nature to establish an understanding of the natural balance of the forest. It was then that I heard the most unsettling responce I have ever received from a commune.


With some further communing from around the area I quickly understood what was happening. Sadly it is not a case of going unanswered, but simply the fact that large area around the temple was simply devoid of life. No plants grew, no animals foraged, birds even avoided the area entirely no doubt due to the same gut feeling of ‘wrongness’ that even now remains firmly in my gut, like a disease slowly eating away at the body.

When my attention returned to the rest of the flock found that they were thankfully in better spirits, having occupied their time playing games to keep their skills sharp. After explaining the situation we decided to continue our journey to the ruins to find out what we needed. As our journey took us closer to the forest it soon became clear to me that it was something far more unnatural than a fire that had killed the trees and plantlife in the area, the blackened forms of the trees not burnt, but simply dead, as if the life had been sucked out of them. Not even the usually resilient insect and fungus life had escaped, and I wondered if I too would soon feel the unnatural forces that caused this tugging at my life.

With my unease growing with every step, we eventually arrived at the ruins, a large religious complex that seemed to have been the site of a large explosion. The walls and roof were spread across a wide area, while the massive metal doors had partly melted to the ground. The feline Sam scouted ahead before returning to report to us that he had found a trap door leading underground.

The ladder led us to a long corridor of steps that lead deeper underground, lit by eery blue ‘flames’ in sconces on the walls that lit up as we approached, a few traps set to try and stop intruders but these were luckily not too much of a problem. The corridor eventually opened out into a fairly large chamber, an archway to our left opening out into an imposing room featuring some kind of religious undertones and what appeared to be a sacrificial altar in one end. Two doors were also present in the room, one dead ahead and one to our right.

We investigated the room with the altar first, warily inspecting throned chains that connected from the roof and lead into the altar itself. The altar was clearly for some kind of blood or life sacrifice, as throned manacles were present in four locations, tracks present on the surface of the altar’s slab to channel the blood of the victim. After finding a lever, we found the entire altar raises up into the air along the chains, but the cuffs themselves had no give, and I believe the act of raising the altar would cause these bindings to tear into flesh, no doubt to lead to the victim’s demise.

With the feeling of dread growing in my mind, we left the altar and moved to the door opposite the entrance, listening by it for a moment before quietly confirming that we could hear voices within. Sam volunteered to go ahead to check it out, and despite my concerns on what may be on the other side, his lack of response was an indication he had decided to go forth anyway. With a moment of brief preparation, we waited. When we heard the sounds of weapons being readied and brisk movements, we pushed open the door and rushed in to help. The fight lasted all but a few seconds, after which Sam responded in an almost childlike manner. It turns out that he had attempted a ploy to get the people within to fight one another, but since we did not know this, we had interrupted their fight with our rescue.

I resisted the urge to point out that he should havelet us know first, as I know how proud and independent he likes to appear, although I am sure he has some kind of insecurity hidden within judging by the way he avoids notice and even denies his very appearance, often choosing to appear as a halfling rather than a feline. One day I will ask him about the reason for his denial of self, but for now it was the wrong time.

After a brief sulk we checked the bodies and the room to find some strange, and somewhat worrying things. The people had been playing with cards that had nothing I could see on them, appearing to be gambling for coins that seemed far older than even some of the trees I had seen in my travels. If they could talk, I wondered what tales they could tell us of their existence. Something seemed odd about the people themselves however, and upon close inspection I spotted horrific marks around each of their ankles and wrists, as if thorned cuffs has been attached, most likely from the altar we saw before.

Further investigation lead us to the conclusion that the people in the room were some kind of undead that seemed to be tasked with cleaning the main room and alter, for signs of dust and signs of footprints showed that they had been in their final room for some time but ventured out, while the area beyond the door was spotlessly clean. After some brief discussions we then decided to take the remaining door back in the room adjoining the altar room.

The doorway lead us into a spotless corridor, lit with more of the eerie self lighting flames. This corridor quickly put myself and the rest of flock on edge as soft whisperings just outside the edges of our hearing started to taunt us. Zabeel seemed most unsettled, and speaking out from his normally calm and quiet composure, he began to accuse me to being the one causing the whispering. After a few attempts to explain to him that it was not my doing, I decided to say nothing, hoping that having someone more tangible to blame than whatever unnatural balance bleeds from these walls will help him in keeping himself ready. I will keep an eye on him however, as it would upset me for him to grow so frustrated by these perceived irritations on my part that it would impact the flock’s trust of one another and put turbulence in our flight.

The corridor’s walls soon gave way to a doorway but inside all we could find is a small cold room full of fresh supplies. Given the age of the other things in this unnatural place this surprised me, but we decided not to linger too long and continued on. The next room we found was the most puzzling we found so far, the room a perfectly round room with a domed roof, the walls covered in slaps of paint that have formed the shapes of strange arcane script and runes. The source of the paint was most puzzling of all, a shirtless man wielding a large paintbrush, not seeming to care or even notice our presence as he feveriously painted, wielding his brush with each stroke as if it was a natural part of himself, in the way a squirrel wields its tail to keep its balance.

In his usual quiet and mischievous manner, Sam stole the paintbrush away from the man and cast it aside with what I am sure was a feeling of glee, but such jubilation quickly faded as the man thrust out a hand, causing the paintbrush to return to his hand in the blink of an eye so he could resume his task, still not taking any notice of us as if he was lost in his own world. The marks on his wrists and ankles matches those of the ‘people’ we saw before, giving us a little more insight into the state these people must of been left in after their ordeal.

Looking for answers I decided to take a glimpse into the magic of the room and activated my nature’s gift of sight of the magical thermals of the room. Expecting the swirling magical sights and winds I normally see, I was taken completely off guard by the runes that seemed to blast into life, filling my vision with them no matter where I looked or how tightly I closed my eyes. I could feel searing pain of the runes and was overwhelmed by it. For how long I was like that I do not know, but thankfully Zabeel was able to snap me out of it and helped me calm down enough to see normally once more. Despite this, I am still hesitant to close my eyes, as I still see glimpses of those runes like the fleeting glance of the sun leaves a lasting mark upon your vision.

I could not tell if it was because he sensed my unease, or because the man had failed to be upset by his theft of the brush, but Sam suggested the next step would, logically be to kill the man and continue on our way. Normally I would have asked for more of a reason to do such but given the devastation and unnatural blight this place had caused, I found myself agreeing with him almost immediately and so I stepped back to watch as he skillfully wielded his weapon and ended his life in a smooth strike.

I feared that the visions from before were returning however as his blood struck the wall as all the runes began to move in a sinister manner. Not wanting to see for what purpose, I flew from the room with the rest of the flock, just in time it seems as the entire room was consumed by whatever chaotic powers had been painted on its walls, nothing visible to betray the fact we had just left a room, only a smooth wall that seemed different from its surroundings that prevented me from disbelieving my memory entirely. Thankfully, the paintbrush was nowhere to be seen.

After a few uneasy moments of silence broken only by the continued whispering on the edge of our senses, we decided to continue along the corridor and soon found ourselves at a fork in our path. We chose to take the left and followed the corridor around into what seemed to be a much more lived area of the underground. Moving carefully, we found what seemed to be bedrooms of the people who ‘lived’ here, if living was the right word for it, and found more of the ancient coins. I looked forward to showing the coins to Jvala when she meets with us again, her delay caused by the unease of her pack who, understandably were not keen on the idea of entering these devoid lands. In a way I am thankful that poor Skydancer did not have to see this place, as I am certain it would haveruffled his feathers and upset his spirit to see sky denied to his wings by whatever fell force wards off the other birds of the area.

We continued to follow the corridor past the rooms until we reached a set of double doors, and after a quick check we guessed we had found a combined food and training room. Sam had been able to identify someone who appeared to be in charge of the pack within. After a moment to prepare we decided the best approach would be for Sam to enter the room and dispatch the leader and anyone else he can before we hear the sounds of alarm, at what point Zabeel and I were to charge into the room, draw attention and start working together to strike down our prey.

The moment we heard sounds that Sam’s prey had been noticed, Zabeel and I charged into the room. I was unable to resist calling out to our foes in a manner that I am sure would have earned a grin from Vernus, and within moments the room a blur of blades and blood. After taking a few painful strikes from the enemys I realised the cause, both Sam and Zabeel out of sight as they used their natural born and skillfully honed abilities to keep themselves out of the enemy’s sights, while I stood at the forefront of the combat like a stranded buffalo facing a pack of wolves, unable to hide behind Vernus and Jvala as normal due to circumstance.

Sam and Zabeel were still there however, and it quickly became apparent to me that they were striking down anyone who came to strike me. Unwilling to become pray myself and spurred on by the help and memories of my friends, I decided to channel my ‘Inner Vernus’ and attempted to take up a posture similar to the ones I had seen him use. With a bellow that sent my cloak into a frenzy despite the still air I attempted to draw the attention of the foes to leave them exposed. In a manner that I hoped would make Vernus laugh I called,
“Is there anyone else?!” I called out, standing before the bodies of three others. Three more charged, surprising me with the speed a ferocity of their strikes before they too fell down.
“Is that it?!” I called out once more, in a tone I had heard him use before, only to be answered immediately by a blade in the back, causing me to yelp like a wounded cub. Clearly, I lacked the viper like reflexes that Vernus always displayed, and so I decided enough was enough and helped dispatch the remaining foes before licking my wounds.

I think in the future, I will leave the hissing and thumping of the ground to those that are better suited for it, but it will still be a fun story to tell the others once we meet with them again.


Wednesday 27 May 2015

2015 Reading Challenge - The Dark Tower

I read a lot of Stephen King during my teens - whatever the library could lend me and whatever the charity shops had on their shelves. I'd about sated myself when Hearts in Atlantis came out, so I haven't read it - in fact, the only of his published since I had read is Lisey's Story. I didn't think it was great, so used it as vindication not to bother reading any of his new stuff and retain my hipster-esque snobbery. I've been told I really ought to get over that, because Hearts in Atlantis is great, as are many of his other more recent works.

I hadn't read The Dark Tower. I'd managed to pick up the third book (and I thought the fourth, but I can't find it), but never the first two so hadn't bothered. My brother and my GM have been among the people telling me I really, really ought to read the series (Roland, the drow gunslinger we ran into in Pathfinder, draws heavily on Roland, the protagonist of the series, and I gather will make future appearances).

My brother leant me the first, which he says has the best first line: "The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed" (as an aside, my favourite first line is in Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle: "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink" - instantly captivating). He then, in quick succession, leant me the rest, whilst our work colleagues chuckled at the sibling lending library.

Anyway, on with the challenge:

The Gunslinger - Stephen King
First published June 1982
Challenges covered 
        - unread book from loved author
        - recommended by friends

The opening line gives an idea of the history and draws you straight into the action, where you quickly get a feel for a world that is different to ours - but perhaps not too different. There is a strong Wild (Wyrd?) West feel, but more modern influences have seeped in: Roland's world feels apocalyptic and frayed. The feeling of spatial/temporal uncertainty is exacerbated with the arrival of Jake, from a world that certainly feels like our world. Not a motif I usually like - I particularly abhorred it in Philip Pullman's The Subtle Knife - but I found it worked well here...

The Drawing of the Three - Stephen King
First published January 1987
Challenges covered
        - number in title
        - set in a different country (the 'real world' bits, anyway)
        - unread book from loved author
        - recommended by friends

... which was just as well, because in the next book we're introduced to Eddie and Odetta/Detta, again from a world far more like our own. I actually didn't enjoy this as much - I had been warned I probably wouldnt, not just for my prejudice against real world characters in fantasy settings (I am getting over this and continue to blame Pullman) but also because the general feeling among our group is that it just isn't as well-written. The plot and character interaction is actually pretty good, but it's as though King got lazy with the writing and it isn't as good as its potential.

The Wastelands - Stephen King
First published January 1991 
Challenges covered
        - more than 500 pages
        - unread book from a loved author
        - recommended by friends
        - owned but never read

This is the one I didn't have to borrow from my brother, but rather reclaimed it from the shelf. My brother again warned me I might not enjoy it, but needed to read it because the next two were amazing. I forget whether other people disagreed with him too, but I loved this one, introducing my favourite (and most woefully underused) character - Oy.

I didn't like the made up creature to begin with, but he reminded me so much of my little kitty (right down to the gold rings around the eyes) that I was soon won over - and spent the next several books frustrated that King didn't seem to realise how smart and engaged Oy was. Even when he showed Oy's intelligence and social competence, he still didn't seem to understand it and, most frustratingly, seemed to forget the little guy altogether - we'd have a detailed description of where each character was, with no mention of Oy until he was needed to save a life.

That aside, I really enjoyed this book and was excited by the 'Riddles in the Dark' themed cliffhanger. I'm just grateful I didn't have to wait as long for the next book as those reading as it was written...
Wizard and Glass - Stephen King
First published November 1997
Challenges covered
       - more than 500 pages
       - unread book from a loved author
       - recommended by friends
       - with magic (I'm not certain whether it's magic or technology akin to magic, but this was the book where it felt most like magic)

The cliffhanger of the previous results in a riddle-filled train ride in this. The sentient train is crazy and will only let them live if they can give a riddle it can't answer. My favourite chapter in The Hobbit is 'Riddles in the Dark'. I remember a presentation on riddles at my local library. I remember presenting riddles for a 'talent show' at my first school. Riddles have always fascinated me. So I rather enjoyed trying to solve the riddles whilst riding a (fortunately not murderous) train to and from work - it slowed down how quickly I read the book, but felt worth it.

As the book moved on, I felt myself regretting not re-reading The Stand - I could feel many echoes of it, but it's probably 15 years since I read it and I remembered too little to satisfy me as the characters moved through its shadow.

I was surprised to enjoy the reference to Wizard of Oz.

I think my brother particularly loves this one for the background we get on Roland, which I can understand - but to his surprise I preferred the previous book. We both think the next is the best in the series, though.

Wolves of the Calla - Stephen King
First published November 2003
Challenges covered
        - more than 500 pages (500 pages is not a challenge.)
        - unread by loved author
        - recommended by friends 

I've mentioned before that my favourite Stephen King novel is Salem's 'Lot, and that's probably part of why this is my favourite book in the series. The idiom and dialect language spoken by most of the NPC-type characters is natural and infectious, and we learn a bit more about what happened to one of the survivors of the 'Lot. There's a lot of intensity, with secrets and lies threatening to tear things apart, and at times I was screaming at the characters to be more honest with each other if they wanted to survive. It reminded me of barely-remembered theatrical studies and the audience awareness of the brewing inevitability in tragic plays such as King Lear. But there were kind and happy moments too, and I really enjoyed it.

Song of Susannah - Stephen King
First published January 2004 
Challenges covered
       - unread by loved author
       - recommended by friends

I'm racing through a bit now because it was several months ago I read the series and I read them in quick succession, so I'm not sure exactly what happened in which. This had some strong moments of interaction between Susannah and Mia, with whom I felt a huge, sorrowful empathy. I also thought the interaction between 'creator' and 'creation' was fantastic (but then, I love Pirandello's 6 Characters in Search of an Author and Season 9 of Red Dwarf), so my hatred of real world characters entering fantasy would seem to be very one-directional.

The Dark Tower - Stephen King
First published September 2004 
Challenges covered
       - over 500 pages
       - unread by a loved author
       - recommended by friends
       - a book that made you cry

To be honest, I was surprised it took until this book for me to cry - I can cry at The Simpsons - but when the series finally got me there it got me hard. I don't want to give spoilers, but the characters' relationships have become very strong by this point and I wept.

Anyway, I'd been warned that I might hate the ending. I didn't. By the time we got to the ending, there were so many things that I knew had gone terribly wrong - so many times when I was going "but that's not how it happened" (as if I knew!) that by the time it ended it felt like the only appropriate ending and actually gave me exactly what I needed.