Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Otherland 2: River of Blue Fire - Tad Williams

After all the build-up (i.e. the entire first book), I was hoping the plot would start to take shape in part 2. Our heroes are trapped in the net, the evil billionaires' evil plan is about to come to fruition, and most of the minor sub-plots seemed just about wrapped up. Maybe now we can get to the story?

Well, it appears not. Instead, the characters potter about and meander through the virtual worlds, getting into scrapes and getting out of them again, with no particular direction or purpose. They're on a quest for... something, and they have to go... somewhere, but no-one really knows where or what, so they just wander around, keeping themselves busy while Williams plays at world-building. He may well have enjoyed himself, creating all those crazy net-worlds, but it's no substitute for writing an actual story. The nearest we get to plot development is Paul finally realising he's in a simulation (duh), and the characters figuring out that the place was created by very old rich men who want eternal life (duh, again) - that's half a sentence, not an 800-page novel.

The task of suspending disbelief is made even harder this time round by the characters' insistence on questioning everything they see - quite apart from the oft-repeated "if we die here, do we die in real life as well?" which gets tedious very quickly. "Surely a giant praying mantis wouldn't behave like that!" they say. "It must be all in the programming! And how strange it is that I can vomit, despite it not being real!" It sounds rather like some cringing apology from the author, who knows it's all a bit stupid but wants to pre-empt the outraged criticism. Likewise with some of the worlds - in one instance, two of the characters get caught up in a battle between giant animated vegetables and some pirates made of gravy. It's sort of played for laughs, but comes across like a custard-pie sequence in an Alien film.

The sub-plots don't do much for it, either. No, they weren't all finished off in book 1, they are still going, and this time they've multiplied! Now we have not just the cackling cartoon psychopath, but also his colleague, and a cop who's picked up his trail; Renie's dad gets a couple of chapters, as does their friend Jeremiah; the lawyer of Orlando's parents gets some screen-time and so does a woman he contacts in relation to Orlando's illness, and the little girl Christabel still pops in occasionally even though she does pretty much nothing. What are they all doing there? Why do they need their own chapters? Is their contribution really necessary, and wasn't there a better way of getting that information across?

The settings are what Otherland is really about, but even those are not all that exciting. Most are either real-life or historical scenarios with a twist, or warped versions of literary settings - a War of the Worlds where the Martians are victorious; a Land of Oz where Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion enact some bizarre post-apocalyptic wargame; the chessboard of Through the Looking Glass where the Red Queen has won and spreads tyranny throughout the land. It all seems faintly stale and derivative - even the central motif of the river connecting all the lands has been used before, in the Riverland saga as well as Endymion and probably other places too.

Overall, the book is just suffocating under its own weight. So far there's not been enough story to fill one book, let alone two, and there are still two more to go. A good editor with a big pair of shears might have saved this by trimming it down to a fraction of its length, but unfortunately Williams has been given free rein to cram in as many worlds and characters as he can think of. Luckily there's a summary chapter at the start of volumes 3 and 4, so I think I'll just read those instead and skip to the end for the conclusion. All I'll be missing is a load of explanatory waffle and some bad dialogue, and life's too short to sit through two more books of that.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Getting Rid of Mister Kitchen - Charles Higson

A wacky corpse-disposal caper. That should tell you all you need to know about the book. The protagonist accidentally kills an implausibly annoying customer, then his car runs out of fuel with the body in the boot, then his wallet is stolen by some implausibly aggressive homeless people, so he goes to borrow money from his pregnant ex-fiancee, who implausibly goes into labour in front of him... and that's just by page 30. Which, not coincidentally, is as far as I got before putting the book down.

The tag-line on the back says "Some days you just can't get rid of a body" - an obvious reference to that wonderful scene in Batman - The Movie where Adam West rushes up and down a crowded pier trying to dispose of a big fizzing bomb without killing nuns, babies or ducks. However, what works as a 2-minute sketch in an already camp movie is unlikely to translate well into a novel. Could I face reading more of these zany antics for the rest of my journey home? Emphatically not. The book may well get better in later chapters, but I'm not going to bother finding out. Only one thing deserves some points - in defiance of all style guidelines, Higson actually managed to use the phrase "'Fuck off,' I explained" and make it work, which is pretty good going. Other than that however...


Thursday, September 21, 2006

King of the Ants - Charles Higson

Better known as Charlie Higson, a.k.a. Squire Ted/Colin Hunt from The Fast Show, but he can be let off the charge of TV Comedy Writer Attempting Literature, as this was published before the Fast Show ever hit our screens. This is the sort of thing they all write, though - from Ben Elton through Rob Grant to Alexei Sayle, churning out Urban Black Comedy with varying degrees of success. And as we've seen before, writing for 30-minute BBC comedy shows is no guarantee that you'll succeed at a full-length novel.

The plot isn't exceptional, but neither is it entirely formulaic: Sean, a jobbing labourer with ambitions of greatness, is hired for some shady work by a dodgy building contractor. Things go wrong, the bad guys are badder than they seem, and the book becomes a quest for bloody revenge. The story follows Sean as his mundane life is gradually overturned by the events he's become mixed up in. The problem is not so much with the plot as with the execution - Sean's state of mind is obviously important to the plot, but do we really need to see his mundane life in so much detail? Yeah, he walks down a street and he's anxious. Now he buys a newspaper and he's still anxious. He drinks beer and becomes slightly less anxious, but then he sees something that makes him scared. It's possible that the constant narrator-description of Sean's mental state is a device to highlight his emotional detachment, but it does often feel like a bad audio-description for blind cinema-goers.

The character of Sean is another obstacle to enjoying the book - he's just not very likeable. This is certainly deliberate, but it takes quite a lot of skill to pull off a protagonist who succeeds despite being both boring and unpleasant, and there's no sign of that here. The best you can say about Sean is that his enemies are even worse, and that's no way to build a hero. The story should have been a page-turner, but it was difficult to work up too much enthusiasm for Sean's exploits. For a "black comedy," it was pretty humour-free, too.

Still, I made it to the end, and it wasn't too painful a read, so it still gets a few points. Not really recommended though.


Plot - Ansen Dibell

I'm not a writer. I'm not even a failed writer, as that would imply I'd made some attempt to succeed at it. Every now and again I decide that the world would be a better place if subjected to my obviously limitless literary talent, so I dredge out my scribbled first-paragraph revisions, make some tweaks to the various background outlines and rewrite a couple of sentences, then get a bit bored and put it back in the box for another year. This being a very inefficient way of getting things written, I decided to do some proper homework into the mechanics of a story. Plot was recommended on some website or other (I'd love to give credit but I really can't remember where it was) as a structural how-to guide for writers, and it does a very good job of it indeed.

Most readers are perfectly capable of realising when a story works and when it doesn't. Identifying WHY something works is a lot more difficult - one of the fundamentals of good writing is that, like the palace plumbing, the mechanics should be invisible, and the only time you notice them is when something goes wrong and it begins to stink. Dibell introduces all kinds of tricks from the writers' secret toolbox, the things the reader never needs to see, but are essential for making a story work - circular plots, thematic symmetry, sleight of hand - and points out examples of these (used both well and badly) from literature and elsewhere as illustration. Much of this is very illuminating, and I now appreciate The Empire Strikes Back even more than before.

The emphasis is on the practical side of building a decent plot, which is much more useful than the nebulous directives of Take Up Thy Pen And Write, which other writers often propound. Dibell also has a nice turn of phrase and uses some very funny metaphors - my favourite was describing how a bad ending can ruin a whole book, in the same way that finding half a maggot in your apple can make you forget how nice the rest of it tasted... If I have any criticisms of this book at all, it's the number of spoilers for Lord of the Flies, which she uses for quite a few illustrations, but that's probably my own fault for not having read it yet. The information about submission to publishers is also rather out of date, but that's information that you can find out easily on the internet. I don't know whether any of these practical points will actually be of any use yet, but it's a good place to start. Now, where did I put that manuscript?


Monday, September 18, 2006

Incompetence - Rob Grant

Yes, that Rob Grant - the one who used to co-write Red Dwarf before it got crap. The rumour was that Rob Grant wrote the jokes, and Doug Naylor did the plots, and Red Dwarf certainly suffered when the partnership broke up. Naylor was obviously not able to maintain the same quality as a solo act - can Grant do any better?

Harry Salt is an undercover agent in a near-future United Europe crippled by bureaucracy and general incompetence. Summoned to a meeting by his partner, he finds himself on the trail of a serial killer, who seems to be the only person in Europe able to work competently and efficiently. Fighting his way through the morass of European red tape, he has to pursue the killer and uncover the truth, while avoiding being arrested or killed in the process... this largely involves the Da Vinci Code-esque technique of getting into trouble, escaping, getting into more trouble, etc, etc, etc...

The Incompetent Bureaucracy angle is the only thing that raises this above the Generic Thriller Formula, and it's certainly something everyone can relate to. Anyone who has had to deal with estate agents, delivery companies or any kind of call centre will know that there are few things more frustrating than jobsworth morons who are too lazy or stupid to do their jobs properly. However, this has been a comedy staple for so many years now that it's hard to come up with original jokes on the subject - there are only so many times you can refer to "the wrong kind of snow" or EU regulations on wonky bananas before it becomes very old indeed. This book is a few years old now, but I'm willing to bet that the jokes were pretty stale back then, too. On top of this, Grant envisages a society where incompetence is actively rewarded, which sounds suspiciously like the old right-wing mantra of "Political Correctness Gone Mad!" - rarely a good sign in comedy.

Having said this, despite all the clumsy cliffhangers and the often misfiring attempts at humour, it's not that bad a read. Bad comedy is always worse when there are obvious jokes that fall flat, and fortunately the humour here is a little more subtle and understated, so it just seems occasionally absent rather than actively painful. And, while the thriller element has baldly obvious twists and a not-very-surprising denouement, the satire takes an interesting turn towards the end and reverses quite a few of the expectations that were built up earlier. I probably wouldn't read this again, but it's nowhere near as bad as the later series of Red Dwarf.


Friday, September 15, 2006

Life on Air - David Attenborough

Everyone likes David Attenborough. Well, except Ben's religious grandparents, who think he's the Antichrist, but that's another story. I've been a fan ever since the days of Life on Earth when I was very small, and have since accumulated most of his DVDs, which is probably why this cropped up on my Amazon recommendations. Of course, I bought it, and I'm very glad I did, as the book is an absolute delight to read.

It is often wise to be wary of autobiographies, as we all know from sitting through the self-obsessed reminiscences of boring acquaintances. Fortunately for us, Attenborough is a suberb storyteller, and so self-effacing that you barely even notice that he's talking about his own achievements. Most of the anecdotes concern the eccentrics, old colonials and other characters that he meets at the BBC and elsewhere, as well as the absolutely fascinating development of British broadcasting from the 1950s to the present - and, of course, the animals. It is only occasionally that his own actions take centre stage, and even then he sticks to the more entertaining events of his life, rather than the ones that make him look important - one notable omission is his knighthood, which is not mentioned even in passing.

The most interesting chapters are probably the earlier ones, which cover the rise of television (one channel, only broadcast a few hours a day) and Attenborough's first nature show, Zoo Quest. We tend to take for granted these days the technical expertise required to film wildlife documentaries, so it was fascinating to read about those early shows, where close-ups could only be shot in the studio, there was no way to record sound at the same time as film, and preparation for a three month exotic wildlife shoot consisted of little more than buying a plane ticket and packing your camera. The tale of the rise of BBC TV is possibly even more interesting - with all the current developments in internet TV, smart digital recorders and the impending Digital Switchover, it's a real eye-opener to see how the industry started up.

Attenborough's well-known views on conservation and the environment are largely absent from the book, which is a bit of a shame, but does fit in with the overall tone. This is mostly a collection of charming anecdotes, and it is rare to find any condemnation or judgmental opinion voiced about any of the subjects (one exception being a Belgian parks official in collusion with the Rwandan gorilla poachers). It's not by any means a serious read, but it's almost certainly a book that you will read with a smile on your face.


Friday, September 08, 2006

The Last Hot Time - John M Ford

This book was recommended to me a year or so ago and I've seen other good reviews of it since, but it's taken a while to track down. It's a real shame when writing of this quality is unjustly overlooked by most punters in favour of mass market dross - see the latest bestseller lists, where Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson's latest Dune prequel has debuted at #3 (shudder). Is there a reason why it dropped so rapidly out of sight, or is the philistinism of the general public entirely to blame?

The Last Hot Time is an urban fantasy tale set in an alternate Chicago, where Elfland has returned and gangsters rule the streets. This is probably the first stumbling-block for a wider audience - people who want to read about elves may not want to read about gangsters, and vice versa. However, it's about damn time the Gateway to Fairyland thing was updated, and elves wielding machine guns is an image that I like very much.

The world-building here is very deftly done - Ford sticks strictly to the "show, don't tell" maxim and so the details are gradually revealed via the characters' actions, rather than dumped on us in clumsy conversation ("So, remind me, how did Elfland reappear?"). In the not-so-distant past, the parallel world of the elves began to overlap with ours, and now there are areas where the two places cross over, and magic works better than technology. In reaction to this, the world outside seems to have become more conservative, as everything dangerous and interesting was drawn towards the magical zones. The hints of this history were very enticing, and I was quite disappointed at how little was actually revealed by the end.

The main character is Dan, a young paramedic, who is leaving his stifling small-town existence and heading for the big city. He ends up being recruited as doctor ('Doc Hallownight') to Patrice, a gang lord in the middle of a war with various rivals, and it is from his point of view that we see the strange crossover zone of the Shadow, where the two worlds overlap. And the plot is... well, here's the other problem. There isn't really that much of a plot at all. Lots of things happen, and many of these are exciting things that relate to other events in the book, but nothing stands out as the main thread of the book. Is it the gang war itself? The traitor inside Patrice's camp? Dan's struggle to overcome his past? The curse on Patrice's girlfriend? It could be any of these, but none stand out enough to really care about.

I think Ford has erred here on the side of minimalism. Everything is hinted at and nothing is stated directly - this is good writing, and perfect for conjuring the hazy world of the Shadow, but by the end of the book you are still left wanting answers to all the questions posed throughout, and this makes for an unsatisfying conclusion. The lack of a strong central plot was also a weakness, and this is probably the main reason the book didn't do too well. Atmosphere is important, but at the end of the day I'm reading for the story. I'd definitely read more of Ford's work, and this was certainly an enjoyable read, but it wasn't as good as it ought to have been.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Otherland - Tad Williams

On first glance, the title, the cover and the name of the author all scream "FANTASY NOVEL!" at me, but this actually turns out to be Science Fiction. Er, that is, Science Fiction that screams "FANTASY NOVEL!" at me. I'm not entirely sure whether this is Fantasy that desperately wants to be SF, or vice versa, but the genre-gap is alive and well right here and Otherland is straddling the divide very uncomfortably - a seamlessly-blended crossover it ain't. That's not to say the book is not worth reading, but you'll have to suspend your disbelief nice and high, and prepare to jump through a lot of hoops to follow the story.

The book was written in the early/mid '90s, when the Internet was young and fresh and a hot topic for SF writers to speculate on. Unfortunately, many of these speculations now look pretty dated, especially the one used as the central premise here, the Full-Immersion Virtual Reality Internet. As with silver clothing, flying cars and green aliens, it's not an impossible view of the future, but one that now just looks a bit silly, and that is quite a hurdle to get over if you want to take this book seriously. It also doesn't help that the central premise takes up so much space that plot and characters have to be sort of wedged in around the edges.

It's a promising premise, mind - Full Immersion VR! Hundreds of online worlds that you can wander around, shopping or fighting or role-playing! Like the Holodeck in Star Trek, you can use it to clip on events from any genre you like - where else can your characters rescue princesses, fight martians and then grab a virtual coffee at an internet mall? With all these new toys to play with, it's not entirely surprising that Williams got rather distracted from the story, but that doesn't really excuse the fact that this is a High Concept book, where the setting entirely drives the plot and the choice of characters. Let's see, we have a nearish-future setting with some complicated technology to explain, but we don't want to infodump straight to camera... aha! Why not put in a South African bushman who has it all explained to him by his computing lecturer? To see how kids interact with this net, we'll have teenage D&D online gamer with a super warrior avatar... and to show how real it is, someone lost in the virtual net, not realising he's online... and a huge shady multinational running the show with Nefarious Purposes? Great! Now to fit them together into some kind of plot!

When you do get to the story, it's not actually that bad. The main thread follows Renie the Lecturer and her Bushman protege !Xabbu - Renie's little brother falls into a coma after accessing a forbidden part of the net, and Renie attracts the unwelcome attention of some very nasty people while trying to investigate. Elsewhere, Orlando is a sick 14-year-old whose mighty warrior RPG avatar is killed in unusual circumstances; he is also investigating this. Paul has no memory and is lost somewhere in the net, being pursued by strange and horrible things across various virtual environments. A psychopath is working for an evil group of generals, business leaders and dictators called (brace yourself) The Grail Brotherhood, and a small girl is running mysterious errands for a strange old man that her parents have forbidden her to see. Some of the viewpoints are more interesting than others - Paul's in particular starts to drag after a while, as it seems to have least relation to the main events in the real world - but they certainly keep you turning the pages; with the fragmented pieces of the story all seemingly unconnected, you really don't know what's going to happen next.

When the connection between the characters is sort-of revealed at the end, it's disappointingly unconclusive, but does serve to set the book up for the sequels, which look like they will be set much more in the virtual fantasy-like world than the real one. I'm lucky in that I've borrowed the entire series from a mate, so I'll probably read on - despite myself, I still want to know what happens so I'll reserve judgement until I've at least read the next one. However, if I had to buy the next book it might be different; overall there's far too much explanation and not enough plot. I'm hoping that now the set-up is all out of the way and Williams is back in his fantasy home ground, things will improve and a real story may emerge. Watch this space...


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Crocodile Seeker (in memory of Steve Irwin)

“Welcome to the show everyone, I’m Richard Rahl, the Seeker. On today’s show we’re going to be looking for some short-tailed Gars. They get really big, and really nasty, so I’d better be extra careful. Now, the first thing to remember is, that before you ever get a look at a Gar, you’re going to encounter its blood flies. They can really bite, but you don’t want to smack them or the Gar will know you’re around, so you just have to let them drink your blood, like this little critter is doing to me right now. Crikey! That’s some bite it’s got, but I don’t want to kill it. Now that its bitten me, I know that there’s a Gar in the area, so I’ll have to be really quiet if I want to get in for a closer look. Follow me.”

Richard crawls through the tall grass until coming to a clearing, there in the middle of it is a short-tailed Gar.

“There he is, crikey, he’s a big one. You can see how the Gar is covered in blood from his last kill. Probably a raccoon or a small child. Gar’s are mean and will eat anything. You can tell a short-tailed Gar by the thick, stubby tail and monstrous big size. Also, check out his wing span, Gar’s are excellent flyers so I’d better get him before he flies away. I’d best be real careful of his jaws. They’re powerful enough to bite my head clean off my body and his claws could tear me to pieces. While we’re here, take a look at his eyes, how the glow green. That’s for hunting Mriswith, nasty creatures who can turn invisible. All right, now you can see that his back is turned toward me, I’ll never have a better chance of taking him by surprise. LET’S GO!”

Richard runs up to the Gar and tackles it to the ground, pinning it and holding its head up for the camera.

“Crikey, it’s really mad now, I don’t know how I’m going to get away. Pinning it is one thing, but I’ll have to let go sooner or later, and then it will probably try to eat me.”

“Grrratch luuug Raaaach aaarg!” the Gar bellowed.

“Must be some sort of distress call to other Gars in the area, if this one is their leader we could soon have hundreds of the critters coming here, and that would be really dangerous. Now, I don’t want to kill him or any other Gars that come to his aid, I’m only the ‘bringer of death’ when it comes to people, I don’t like to kill animals, especially magnificent creatures like this. So I’d better just tag this one and get away before he gets really mad and all his friends show up.”

“Grrratch luuug Raaaach aaarg!” the Gar cried again.

“It’s definitely calling for help, let’s get away before they all show up. Gars can be very protective of their own, except when they try to eat each others young. That can be very nasty.” Richard clips a tag onto the Gar’s ear and dashes off back to the tall grass to hide.

“Grrratch luuug Raaaach aaarg!” is heard in the distance.

“Crikey, there will probably be hundreds of Gars here any minute, so we’d best be off. Tune in next week when we’ll be hunting for the deadly “Chicken-that-isn’t-a-chicken”, its possessed by evil chimes and has a really foul temper. Also get ready for my wife Kahlan to give birth. Our son is going to be a wizard and a Confessor, so the birth should really be something to see, especially since I expect a visit from the Witch-woman Shota. She said she’d kill our son and she has a really nasty temper, so we’ll have to be extra careful. Until then, I’m Richard Rahl, and you’re watching the Crocodile Seeker.

- The Mad Moose

Moral Celery Battle

The room is dark. The only light came from a few torches placed at regular intervals. The flame light outlines vague, uneven shapes but the shadows cluster too thickly to make out any detail. It is an atmosphere of total stillness and silence. A light- from whence it came, no one knew- begins to brighten the enclosure. The shadows battle briefly and then flee into full scale retreat.

It is an arena. But could men have built such a thing? Surely not, surely this must be the domain of the Gods! Smooth planes of stainless steel glitter with mirrored perfection. Rows upon rows of tables, littered with curiously shaped implements dot the landscape. Between the tables and ovens stands a battalion of men. Clad in the purest of white, they stand at rigid attention.

A man, thin, and saturnine surveys the scene. In contrast to the austere exactness of the arena, the man is dressed…flamboyantly. A black cape, with a cream colored inner lining is thrown casually over one shoulder. He wears a Mao suit, sprinkled liberally with rhinestones and a choice assortment of glitter.

The man’s gaze shifts to a basket filled with peppers. With an elegantly gloved hand, he selects a yellow pepper. He raises the pepper to his mouth and takes a bite…

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” Brillat-Savarin

Nearly a decade ago, a man's fantasy became reality in a form never seen before, Kitchen Stadium, a giant cooking arena. The motivation for spending his fortune to create kitchen stadium was to encounter new, original cuisine, which could be called true, artistic creations. To realize his dream, he started choosing the top chefs of various styles of cooking, and he named his men the Iron Chefs, the invincible men of culinary skill. Iron Chef Japanese is Masaharu Morimoto, Iron Chef French is Hiroyuki Sakai, Iron Chef Chinese is Chen Kenichi, and Masahiko Kobe is Iron Chef Italian. Kitchen stadium is the arena where Iron Chefs await the challenges of master chefs from all over the world. Both the Iron Chef and challenger have one hour to tackle the theme ingredient of the day. Using all their senses, skills, creativity, they're to prepare artistic dishes never tasted before. And if ever a challenger wins over the Iron Chefs, He or she will gain the people's ovation, and fame forever. Every battle, reputations are on the line in Kitchen Stadium, where master chefs pit their artistic creations against each other. What inspiration will today's challenger bring, and how will the Iron Chefs fight back? The heat will be on!

Announcer 1: Good evening folks! We’ve got an exciting show for you tonight! The challenger is Chef Richard Rahl, owner and head chef at the D’Haran’s People’s Food Court.

Announcer 2: Richard Rahl’s restaurant received an impressive 19 on the Gault Millau scale. Rumor has it that Chef Rahl was so angered at not receiving a 20 out of 20 he tracked down every food critic in the tri-county area and had them summarily beheaded.

Announcer 1: Haha! That story is of course apocryphal. I have it on good authority that he first had his wife Kahlan force them to cut off and eat their testicles before they were executed. As we all know, Chef Rahl is know far and wide for his moral clarity and thus would never execute someone summarily.

Announcer 2: Haha, yes, speaking of moral clarity, Chef Rahl has made himself famous in the culinary world for his meals focused on promoting objectivist philosophy and a “no mercy” approach to food preparation.

Cut to a video clip of chef Rahl, speaking into a microphone at an interview in his restaurant’s kitchen.

“I have always liked to say that my foods will purge you of your collectivist impulses faster than prune juice will purge you of crap. On countless occasions, after tasting my flambé ala Rand, my customers have told me that all their charity and compassion shriveled up and died.”

Video clip ends

Announcer 1: Making Chef Rahl’s story even more dramatic is the fact that he changed the entire focus of his restaurant in the middle of the season. Before, Chef Rahl’s Food Court was focused entirely on vegetarian cuisine. Then just recently he announced he would focus his efforts on producing only meatbased food.

Announcer 2: As I understand it, many of his customers were angry and confused over Chef Rahl’s abrupt about-face.

Announcer 1: Yeah, Chef Rahl had them all put to death. He saved the corpses and is planning a cannibal extravaganza when he reopens the Food Court this spring. He is going to unveil a whole slew of exotic dishes he learned while studying the culinary arts among the Mud People.

Announcer 2: Wow, that should be some treat! I’m going to be placing my reservation now!

Announcer 1: Haha, nice try, but Chef Rahl’s restaurant doesn’t accept reservations. Seats in his restaurant are awarded only to be people who can demonstrate their moral clarity. I’ve driven past the Food Court on numerous times, and let me tell you, it ain’t pretty. Pandemonium left and right, people kicking in jaws and slitting throats just to get a seat in Chef Rahl’s Food Court. It looks like a scene straight out of a George Romero movie.

Announcer 2: Haha, talk about survival of the fittest. Oh, I think Chef Rahl is here now!

The doors to kitchen stadium were thrown open and a gaggle of Agiel wielding Mord-Sith flounced into the arena. Announcers, guests, assistant chefs, and even Chairman Kaga himself strained to catch a glimpse of Chef Rahl. But it was no use, though their eyes flew all about, they could not see Chef Rahl among his Mord-Sith, despite the fact Chef Rahl was reputedly a big man.

The party of dominatrixes halted before Kaga’s dais and suddenly parted. The crowd began to mutter in confusion when they saw nothing. But then the crowd gasped. The air itself seem to part and revealed the imposing form of Chef Rahl.

Dressed from head to foot in his black leather form hugging war chef outfit, Richard cut a masculine figure. Covered in buckles and zippers, the outfit shone with the twin glisten of glossy leather and polished metal. Years of sampling his own objectivist ambrosia had left Richard with an ample gut. His excess weight combined with his leather outfit was making Richard perspire profusely. Ropes of sweat crawled down his cheeks and forehead and beaded on his upper lip. His broad face had a florid complexion which would darken to a deep purple on the frequent occasions when he lost his temper.

Richard surveyed the arena with his raptor like gaze, and hooked his thumbs between his belt while gritting his teeth.

Announcer 1: Wow, that was some entrance.

Announcer 2: Haha, yes. I’ve been at Kitchen Stadium for years and that was the most dramatic- ah! It looks like Chef Rahl is about to choose an Iron Chef!

Chairman Kaga gestured with his hands and a section of the floor slide open to reveal a large pit. As they all watched a large platform began to rise from the pit. Standing atop the platform were several men in different colored outfits.

Richard’s eye’s widened when he saw the man on the end of the platform.

“Jagang!” Richard hissed between his teeth.

Announcer 1: It looks like Chef Rahl has just discovered the Chairman’s surprise!

Announcer 2: To really heat things up for today’s competition, Chairman Kaga made Jagang and honorary iron chef.

Announcer 1: And Chef Ralh has just thrown down the gauntlet to Iron Chef Jagang! This will be a battle of Titans!

Announcer 2: Not just a battle of food, but a battle of Philosophy!

Announcer 1: In contrast to Chef Rahl, Chef Jagang is a master of Collectivist Cuisine. During the course of his career, Chef Jagang has studied cooking at the sides of Fidel Castro, Kim Jong Il, and Chea Guevera.

Announcer 2: In addition to his formal cooking instruction, Jagang was able to unearth ten tomes of Stalin’s secret recipes, among them the much celebrated 1001 Ways to Cook Borscht Behind the Iron Curtain and Cookin’ in the Kremlin.

Announcer 1: This will be a battle for the ages!

Announcer 2: It looks like the Chairman is about to unveil today’s theme ingredient!

Chairman Kaga had ascended the steps to a large table strewn with metal containers. With a gesture, the Chariman had an assistant cook lift one the lids from the containers to reveal…


Announcer 1: Great Caesar’s Ghost! Iron Chef Jagang didn’t look to pleased with that announcement!

Announcer 2: I doubt Chef Rahl could be happier.

Silence rang through Kitchen Stadium.

“Allez Cuisine!!!” screamed Chairman Kaga.

Richard wore a smug grin as he lumbered up the steps and selected a number of choice pieces of celery. Jagang followed reluctantly.

Announcer 1: Each of our contestants will have one hour to cook an assortment of different meals. At the end of the hour, their dishes will vie for the favor of our five judges.

Announcer 2: Lets ask our floor reporter if can get the contestants to answer a few questions.

Richard had unslung the Sword of Truth, which he was using to slice some celery.

Floor Reporter: Squeeze On! Rahl-San, could you give us an idea of how you think this kitchen battle is going to go?

Richard still wore his smug smirk as he began to expound his ideas at length through his clenched teeth.

“You see,” said Richard, “the theme ingredient will naturally work to my advantage. Iron Chef Jagang is going to have to scramble if he expects to score half as well as I will. But even if the ingredient hadn’t been in my favor I still would have one the battle.”

Floor Reporter: You’re talking almost if you have already won-

“I am,” interrupted Richard. “You see, Jagang comes from the collectivist school of cooking, where they try to make the ingredients work with each other in harmony. According to the collectivists, you must blend the ingredients so that their flavors will work with each other to create something greater than the sum of their parts. In a way, this is an advantage. They taste like a collective mass, a collective element, like one big centipede.”

Floor Reporter: I’m, uh, not sure I get the analogy-

Richard’s smirk disappeared and he glared, raptor like, at the floor reporter, his huge manbreasts straining against his black leather war chef outfit as his breathing increased.

Richard ground his teeth. “I don’t cook a “meal”. I cook individual pieces of food. I cook according to the principals of Truth. Each piece of food is a complete individual. I do not blend any of the ingredients together to dilute their personality. Every bite from one of my dishes will scythe through your taste buds or explode in your mouth, leaving a melon sized hole.”

The Floor Reporter could see that Richard was becoming angry so he tried to switch subject.

Floor Reporter: I noticed that you’re not wearing a hat or any sort of hairnet-

“I do not believe in providing support for my hair. If one of my follicles should fall, then it was weak, and clearly unprepared to live life as an individual.”

The reporter tried to lighten the mood with a joke: Well, I hope you at least wash your hands before you cook-

Richard affixed the reporter with his raptor like gaze but said nothing. Silence rang.

Floor Reporter: Well, uh, er, I better be going-

“Where the Hell do you think your going?” demanded Richard. Chef Rahl stopped slicing celery with his sword and grabbed the reporter.

Floor Reporter: I wanted to let you cook. I was just going to go interview Iron Chef Jagang.

“Like Hell you are,” said Richard, who then began one of his long assed speeches that he was so famous for.

55 minuets later

Announcer 1 (whispering): Is Chef Ralh still talking?

Announcer 2: Yes, and I don’t thinks he’s cooked anything yet either.

Announcer 1: I think we better tell him his time is almost up.

An assistant cook was sent onto the floor to prod Richard with a spatula until he stopped talking.

“Wha…?” asked Richard as the assistant cook whispered in his ear. “Five minuets ! F*ck!” Richard released the floor reporter from his iron grasp and let him slump to the ground.

Richard knew that he was going to have to pull something out of ass, and fast, otherwise his goose was cooked. He picked up his sword.

“Blade, be true this day,” whispered Richard as he dropped into a cooking stance.

Preparer of Food.

Richard’s blade spun through the air like a pinwheel on PCP. Celery flew every which way. For Richard, time stood still, and all he could hear was the beating of his own heart. Richard knew that somehow Jagang had tricked him into frittering away his time. But Richard was not unduly concerned. Using his powers of moral clarity, he saw a way to still salvage the situation.

Preparer of Food.

Richard screamed out orders from between his clenched teeth. As he spoke, assistant cooks began to haul in Richard's secret weapon. The only way to counter Jagang’s scheming was to use only ingredients that possessed moral clarity. Richard hollered in bloodlust as he saw the caged Animals of Truth.

Preparer of Food.

The sword left a metallic blur through the air as it descended on a pack of noble timber wolves. Their whimpers of pain and fear were cut off almost as soon as they were uttered.

Preparer of Food.

The goats went next. Their bleating was no match for Richard’s whirlwind of death. Without hesitation, Richard gutted them from nose to their tiny wagging tails.

Preparer of Food.

And finally there was the walrus. Whirling like a dervish, Richard cut through blubber, bones, and muscle like so much butter.

Preparer of Food.

A bell rang, and the red mist that clouded Richard’s eyes disappeared. It was only then that Richard realized that he was standing in a pool of blood and entrails.

Richard wiped the ropes of sweat from his brow, hooked his thumbs behind his belt and surveyed his handiwork with satisfaction. There was no time to gloat, however, since the assistant cooks had already started to collect the dishes and bring them before the judges.

Richard waited nervously while the judges began to sample Jangang’s dishes.

“This dish is as light as a cloud!” exclaimed a pleased judge. “It reminds me of autumn leaves drifting in the wind!” Jangang murmured his thanks and brought on the next dishes. Each one earned appreciative comments from the judges until finally Richard’s turned arrived.

Steaming and stinking, Richard’s dishes were plopped down in front of the judges.

“Uh, what exactly IS this?” asked one female judge.

“It is timber wolf tartare sprinkling with celery.” The judges gazed at the food with undisguised horror. “Basically, every dish I prepared today is tartare.” The judges began to nibble at the dishes while under Richard’s raptor glare. By the time the final dish arrived, only one of the five judges was still conscious, although his complexion was now a disturbing shade of green.

“My piec de resistance is raw celery wrapped in walrus blubber.” The judge valiantly tried to consume Richard final culinary grotesquery but it was too much. Within moments the judge dropped to the floor stone dead after choking on the blubber.

In the end Chairman Kaga awarded Richard zero points and banished him from Kitchen Stadium.

Richard’s face darkened. “I warn you, Chairman, by awarding this victory to Jagang you are siding with the jackals of evil against moral clarity….”

12 hours later

“… and you can put that in your pipe and smoke it!” Richard declared. It was only then that he realized that he was standing alone in the middle of a darkened stadium.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” asked Richard.
In the distance he could here some crickets chirping. A lone tumble weed blew across the floor.

- Zap Rowsdower

Terry Goodkind's Darkplace

'Hello. Ah you just caught me polishing my prized collection of human ears. All removed from the enemies of my formative years. My name is Terry Goodkind, you probably know me as the author of countless books including Stone of Tears, Naked Empire and Debt of Bones. But what you probably don't know is that twenty years ago, back in the Eighties, I wrote, produced, directed, catered for, whistled the theme tune and starred in my own television series. It was set in a hospital called Darkplace and it served as a vehicle for promoting the noble ideals of Objectivisim through the medium of terrifying, blood curdling, horror. It has never been aired, considered too extreme, too subversive and just too damn scary for the networks of the time. But at last it is here for you to watch and enjoy, complete with commentary from the cast to further your enjoyment. As a writer I create my own rules. If I want to start a sentance with a full stop, I will. If I want to create a deus ex machina magic thing to get me out of a plot cul-de-sac, I will do that too. This episode is an example of just that principle at work, marvel at how you never saw the ending coming.'

[opening titles with cheesy 80's style electro music and slow-mo video of the cast]

Terry Goodkind as Doctor Richard Rhal MD
Solarious Myne as Doctor Zedd Zeddicus Zorrandor MD
Dean Learner as Superintendant Demmin Nass
and also starring
Terry Goodkind as Nurse Khalan Amnell

'Many people have asked me, Terry, why did you play the role of Nurse Khalan as well as Doctor Richard. How did you do the kissing sequences? Well far be it for me to spoil the magic of television . . . . . but we used a body double. Horrible woman, I hated having to do those scenes with her. She kept saying how stupid it looked for me to play the role when I had a yeard and she should be the one playing the nurse. She could never understand the simple truth that Doctor Richard is me as I would be as a doctor and Khalan is me as I would be if I were a woman. Simple.'

[scene 1 - The Superintendant's Office]
'Dammit Demmin, how long have we known each other? You can't do this!' Says Richard dramaticly.
'We've known each other a long time Richard, a long time. But I have a hospital to run and I can only do it sat from behind this desk. Mainly cos I had my legs blown off and my spine ripped out in the Dharan War ten years ago. But still you get my point.'
'Fine. I will go make the medicine for the children, but I warn you - if any of them grow up to be mass murderers, on your head be it. I won't be held responsible for that again.'
Nurse Khalan walks in.
'Now, now boys. What is all the shouting for? You are disturbing the patients.'
'Sorry Nurse Amnell, just an administrative disagreement.' Says Demmin Nass. Richard can barely speak, Nurse Khalan is just so beautiful. He feels like he has always known her. Her eyes have a piercing raptor like quality that won't let him go. Richard with a flick of his yeard stands up to leave the room.
'If you need me, I will be in the lab. Making the medicene - I don't know the recipe or ingredients at all but I remember what it tasted like. Nurse tell those children, everything is going to be alright.' Nurse Khalan blushes as her hero leaves to go do his job. Seconds after he is gone, Doctor Zedd enters the office.
'Superintendant - we have a problem. All of the patients in the south-west wing have lost one of their ears!'
'Their ears! What are you talking about man?'
'It is like the ears just got up and walked off under their own power. The patients don't remember it happening, just woke up and their ears were gone.'
'That's horrible! Oh the poor children!' Said Nurse Khalan in shocked dismay.
'We don't know what is going on, but we had best get to the bottom of this mystery - and fast. Oh and in an entirely unrelated incident their seems to be a lot of strange noise coming from the basement.'
'The basement? Where we hid all that nuclear waste from Dr Darken's terrible experiments?' Says the superintendant.
'What?' Say both Dr Zedd and Nurse Amnell together in more shocked dismay.
'Err, nothing. Forget I said anything.' Says the superintendant. 'If you will both get back to work I am very busy.' Both the doctor and Nurse Amnell leave the office. Outside Dr Zedd turns to the Nurse dressed in white and says,
'You know Nurse, I am not convinced those are unrelated incidents. I am going to go check out the basement.'
'Be careful Zedd.' Says Nurse Khalan.
'Always.' Says the brave doctor with a grin and a flick of his hair heading for the elevator.

[cast interview]
'When Terry approached me and asked me to play the role of Doctor Zedd, I jumped at the chance. I mean what an honour. Of course I would have gone through the casting couch process if he wanted, anything for my friend, you know. But he said he wrote the part for me. Some people said to me I was crazy, that Terry's productions were cursed. After all seven people on his last show had mental breakdowns and they never did find the lead actress after the accident. But I said, no the script is just too good. The deep meaning behind the show is too strong, I just have to do this part. So, thats what I did.'

[scene 2 - The Basement of Terror]
Doctor Zedd crept into the dark basement, looking around for clues as to what might be causing all the noise. Drip, drip. Some water dripped on the floor. Creak! A door suddenly creaked making the doctor jump.
'There is nothing here,' he declared, 'I am just scaring myself.'
Then as he turned a terrifying sight meet his eyes. His eyes could not believe what he was seeing. There before him was a giant ear walking on a pair of legs it had somehow grown. Before the doctor could react the giant walking ear slapped him round the head with its distended mutant lobe. The giant ear made a pleased laughing sound as it dragged the uncouncious doctor away.

Oblivious to the fate of his colleague, Richard Rahl continues to mix a medicene for the children purely based on his memory of how it tasted. Nurse Khalan enters the lab to talk to the doctor.
'Richard. Have you heard?'
'The ears, yes. Terrible news. I will get right on it when I am done with the medicene.' He took a sip of his current concoction. 'No that's not quite right, needs more paprika.'
'I am so scared Richard - hold me.' Setting down the equipment, Doctor Richard Rahl pulled Nurse Khalan into an embrace. It felt like they had always known each other. 'Don't be afraid Khalan, I won't let anybody hurt you.' They kiss for what feels like an eternity. Moving their tongues around inside their own cheeks facing camera to make it seem like they are french kissing.

'Ugh, disgusting woman. She offered to do that for real you know, vile little slut that she is.'

[scene 4 - Attack of the Mutant Killer Ears]
Demmin Nass was making his rounds with the use of his crutches.
'What is wrong with you patient?'
'I had my spine pulled out last week, it hurts so much.'
'Get up you cry baby! Choose life! If you wanted to choose life so much you would just instantly heal and get up like I did.'
'But it hurts!' Wailed the patient.
'Do you want to choose death? Do you? I can just kick you in the jaw if that's what you want?'
Just then the door burst open and a giant mutant ear entered the room and kicked Demmin Nass's crutches away making him fall over. He screamed as the ear jumped on top of him driving the air from his lungs with a perfectly preformed elbow drop. All up and down the ward, patients and staff alike screamed as wave after wave of giant mutant ears marched in and attacked everyone.

'The giant mutant ears in this story represent the truth that people refuse to hear. Even though the ears have no mouths to speak the truth, this is just an added metaphor which highlights the nobility of listening to others.'
'So when your critics said that they were just men in crap costumes, how did you respond to that?' Asks an off camera interviewer.
'I never listen to critics.'

[scene 5 - Hero to the Rescue]
'Hark, whats that?' Said Doctor Richard letting Nurse Khalan go, 'It sounded like screams.' Rushing out into the hall our heroes see the whole hospital in chaos. Giant mutant ears are everywhere terrorising everybody.
'Quick Richard, kick them in the jaw.' Suggests Khalan.
'No I have a better idea.' Doctor Richard unbuckles his belt and drops his trousers. Nurse Khalan, despite the danger all around, takes the opportunity to look at his big barbed namble-like cock. Richard pulls his enormous penis out of the way and reaches around behind himself and pushes his hand straight up his arse!
'What are you doing Richard?' Says Khalan.
'Give me a hand nurse, pull.' Together they pull at something lodged in Richard's rectum. Slowly, inch by agonising inch a huge white shape emerged from his anus. It was around five feet in length and had two enormous giant cotton buds on either end.
'An enormous Q-Tip. How did you do that?'
'I am a Doctor of Medicine, remember?'
'My hero!' Khalan declares happily.
'Q-Tip be true this day.' Richard starts laying into the giant mutant ears with the Q-Tip of Truth. Every giant ear the cotton buds connected with vanished in a puff of smoke, as if by magic.
Bringer of death.
Richard lunged, pivoted, twirled and thwacked at every ear in sight. Soon the hospital was rid of every giant mutant ear.
'Oh my head. What happened?' Says Doctor Zedd staggering from the elevator.
'Doctor Zeddicus, Richard has saved the day again!' Says Khalan jubilantly.
'He still has a medicine to produce though. Your work is not over yet Doctor Rhal.' Said Demmin Nass coming up the corridor.
'Is a heroes work ever done?' Said Richard.
Khalan laughed, Zedd laughed, Demmin laughed, even Richard laughed. Everybody laughed.

[end credits roll as more cheesy 80's electronic music plays]

'There you have it. The hero, quite literally, pulls the answer to his problems out of his ass. I bet you never saw that coming. That is it for this episode of Terry Goodkind's Darkplace. Tune in next week to see the next terrifying episode entitled: Attack of the Giant Moral Celery. Goodnight.'

- theMountainGoat

Some Songs of Truth

The Mord-Sith In Red - Chris de Burgh

Note - an Agiel is a type of torture implement used by Richard's super torturers.

I've never seen you look so raptor-like as you did today
Never seen your yeard so gay
I've never seen so many people ask you if you wanted to fight
Looking for some death tonight, you killed them alright
I have never seen that outfit you're wearing
Or the bloodstains on your sword that catch your eyes, I have been blind.

The lady in red
Is torturing me, agiel to agiel...
Theres nobody here
Its just you and me
Not really where I wanna be
But I can hardly leave this beauty by my side
Ill never forget the way it hurts tonight.

Ive never seen you looking so deadly as you did tonight
Ive never seen your red leather armour shine so bright
Ive never seen so many people want to be there by your side
And when you gave me your agiel, it took my breath away
And I have never had such a feeling such a feeling
Of complete submission and defeat, as I do tonight

The lady in red is toruring me
Agiel to agiel
Theres nobody here
Its just you and me
Not really where I wanna be
But I can hardly leave this beauty by my side
Ill never forget the way it hurts tonight

I never will forget the way it hurts tonight
The lady in red
My lady in red
I am your pet.

Me & Alytha

It's In His Sword - Aretha Franklin

How did he do that?
I wanna know!
How can I tell how he kills his foes?

(Did he study at school?)
Oh no! You need to see!
(Did someone show him the rules?)
Oh no! You make believe!
If you wanna tell
How Richard fights so well
It's in his sword!
(That's where it is!)

(Oh yeah! Or did he train for years?)
no girls! He's just too thick!
(Or practise cutting off ears?)
no girls! That's just cos he's sick!
If you wanna tell
How Richard fights so well
It's in his sword!
(That's where it is!)
yeah!! It's in his sword!
(That's where it is!)

Oh, oh, oh, honey!
Make him fight!
Find out what you wanna know!
Send in the troops and your warrior lords,
He'll bring death with his sword!

(How 'bout some basic training, at least, come on!?)
no no no! That's not the way!
You're not listenin' to all I'm sayin'!
If you wanna tell
How Richard fights so well
It's in his sword!
(That's where it is!)
Oh, yeah ! Its in his sword!
(That's where it is!)
mmmm ! Its in his sword!
(that's where it is)
mmmm it's in his sword

New Year's Eve (U2)

All is quiet in D'Hara, yay.
But beware, Richard's on the way.
He will be there, be there 'fore night and day.
Everything changes in D'Hara today.
In D'Hara today.

He...Oh he will rant again.
he...Oh he will rant again.

Under a blood-red sky
A crowd has gathered in black and white
Arms prepared, the chosen few
And Richard says, says
Says it's true, it's true...
And we have to execute you
You will be torn in two
We'll never be one.

He...Oh he is ranting 'gain
He...Oh he is ranting 'gain.

Oh, oh. Oh, oh. Oh, oh.
Oh, oh come on start the fight.
Oh, yes tonight.
Or he'll rant at us again.
Or he'll rant at us again.

And so he tells us this is the golden age
But gold's not the reason for the wars they wage
May he soon be gone again
Before one more night and day
Everything changes
No, no more ranting, yay
No, no more ranting, yay
No, no more ranting, yay.

- Alytha

War (Edwin Starr)

War! Wizards! yeah
What are they good for?
Deus Ex Machina Magic

War! Wizards! yeah
What are they good for?
Sexy wizard outfits
Say it again y'all

War Wizard, Dick Rahl, ya'll
What is he good for?
Kickin face of children
Listen to me!

Ohhh? War! He enjoys
Because it means destruction
Of innocent lives

War wizards mean tears
to thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go to fight
and Richard ends their lives

I said - War Wizard Rahl, ya'll!
What he good for?
Making long speeches
Say it again

War Wizard, Lord Rahl...
What is he good for
Justifyin' torture
Listen to me!

War! Who wants to meet the Bringer of Death
War! Friend only to lovers of Truth
Communism! It's an enemy to all mankind
Emperor Jagang will dreamwalk your mind

Richard has caused unrest in the younger generation
Induction then destruction-
Who wants to die next?

Ohhh? War Wizard Rahl, y'all!
What is he good for?
Killin people-centipedes
Say it, Say it, Say it

War Wizard Rahl, huh!
What is he good for?
Always getting captured
Listen to me!

War! Your freedom is at stake
War! You either join us, or get gang-raped
Pacifism has shattered many nation's back
Made it weak, lazy, and easy to attack
Life is too precious to be protesting wars these days
Protest for peace, Richard'll take your life away

War Wizard Rahl y'all
What is he good for?
Always losin his powers
Say it again

War! Wizard, Lord Rahl...
What he it good for
Showin moral clarity
Listen to me!

War! Who wants to meet the Bringer of Death
War! Friend only to lovers of Truth
Peace Love and Understanding;
are for hippies, commies, and gays
Richard wants you to fight to keep your freedom
He'll kill your ass if you suggest a different way

War! Huh Dick Rahl, y'all
What is he good for?
You tell me
Say it, Say it, Say it

War Wizard Rahl y'all
What he good for?
Stand up and shout it.
12 books of Nothing!

- VigoTheCarpathian

Rising Thing of Truth - D'Haran Mode

You had a Thing to hide
Should have hidden it, shouldn't you
Now you're not satisfied
With giving kids the boot

It's just time to pay the price
For not heeding Zedd’s advice
And abusing an 8-year old youth
With your rising thing of truth

The books could be different now
The plots could not be the same
You really need to find out how
To not appear insane

It's too late to not rip out spines
It's time to save all mankind
You’re such a closet poof
With your rising thing of truth

Write it again
Kahlan’s a whore
You said before
Say it again
All girls are whores
Say it some more

Now you're standing there, thing out
You've taught those commies well
Choose life or your blood will gout
Your bullshit is what you smell

You'll see your ego multiplied
If you let Ayn Rand decide
To yeardify the Truth
It’s a rising thing of Truth

Write it again...

- VigoTheCarpathian