First Trimester

Very quick pregnancy update.

The first trimester is over.  Thank God!  My wife has been consistently exhausted for 13 weeks.  She’s starting to get her energy back now, which is very exciting.  Every night for the past three months she’s been falling asleep on the couch at 7 or 8.  We have a bunch of projects we want to get done and it’s been super hard getting her motivated to do anything.  It’s not her fault and she can be as tired as she wants, but it is exciting for me that she’s going to be a little more active.  I’ve heard that the second trimester is the easiest, the woman isn’t huge yet and a lot of the symptoms from the first trimester are gone.

I hope that’s true, and I’m planning on getting the house as prepped as possible while I have my wife operating at her normal capacity.  We still have to put trim around a few doors, put some wainscoting up in the baby’s room, replace some flooring, buy a ton of baby stuff, rearrange furniture, build the crib, etc.  The list goes on and on.  We have our next doctor’s appointment today, and it just seems like this pregnancy is flying by.  A third of the pregnancy is gone just like that.  Craziness!

Job Hunt Update

Once again, the jobs I was interested in didn’t work out.  The hospital job wasn’t a good fit, so I turned it down.  I had an interview at a community college last week.  The job posting for this position was extremely generic.  They didn’t list any specific technologies the applicant needed to be familiar with, they said they just wanted an application analyst.  When I went in to the interview, they asked questions about Java and technologies related to developing Java based applications.  I haven’t done anything with Java, so I was completely out of my element.  I wasn’t able to answer almost any of the questions well, it was extremely embarrassing.  I don’t know why they didn’t say they needed a Java developer, and I also don’t know why they bothered to interview me because I don’t have any of that stuff on my resume.  Needless to say, I’m not getting that job.

I’m going to take a break from job hunting for a little bit.  I’m pretty tired of feeling disappointed or let down.  I have a decent job right now, I think I’m just going to focus on the baby for a little bit and come back to the job hunt in a month or two.  I’m talking to a recruiter that found me on LinkedIn, so if she can find me something good I’ll consider it.  But for my own sanity I need to lay off the job hunt for a bit.

Gardens of the Moon

A difficult read, but an introduction to one of the best fantasy series ever written.

This post is part of an ongoing series about Steven Erikson‘s Malazan Book of the Fallen.  In each post I discuss and review one of the books in the series.  These posts will contain spoilers for the book discussed as well as the entire series, so consider yourself warned. 

Introduction

Gardens of the Moon was my introduction to the world of the Malazan Book of the Fallen and Steven Erikson.  At the time, I believe I had just finished The Wheel of Time, and I was looking for a more mature and progressive fantasy series.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed WoT, but there was a lot of one dimensional characters and misogyny in those books.  I wanted something that challenged me a little more.  I did some research online, and it seemed that the Malazan Book of the Fallen had a small but passionate following.  All the reviews I found were calling it one of the top three fantasy series of all time, so I took the plunge.

Background

This book was originally envisioned as a screenplay.  In the 80’s, Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont worked together as archaeologists.  They ran a series of dungeons and dragons campaigns with some of their friends, but instead of focusing on the “gamey” aspects of D&D, they opted to focus on storytelling and characterization.  These campaigns became the basis for the fantasy novels that Erikson and Esslemont would write later on.

They wrote Gardens of the Moon as a screenplay in the early 90’s, but it never got picked up.  After a few years they decided to change focus and write separate fantasy novels set in the world of Malaz instead.  They split the world in two based on the geographical continents, and Erikson wrote about one half and Esslemont the other.  They do share characters and locations from time to time.  This ranges from a brief cameo to a main character POV.  There is a big difference in writing style and quality between the two writers, but it’s always very exciting to see a character pop up in one of the other author’s works.  It kind of reminds me of the Marvel movies and how the heroes keep popping up in each others movies.

Gardens of the Moon came out in 1999 after Erikson reworked his screenplay into a novel.  The book is 666 pages long, and it primarily follows the Bridgeburners, a legendary army that’s part of the Malazan military.  This book picks up directly after they have been decimated by a battle at the city Pale on Genebackis.

Flaws

It took me two attempts to get through this book. The first time I picked up Gardens of the Moon I stopped about a quarter of the way through and didn’t try again for about a year.  There were a few reasons for this.

First off, the over arching story of these books follows the Malazan empire.  Technically speaking, this book drops you into the middle of the plot with very little explanation.  The real story begins roughly a hundred years before this book with the formation of the empire, and concludes with the resolution of the tenth book The Crippled God.  There is very little in the way of exposition, the reader is literally dropped into the middle of the story and expected to keep up.

Secondly, the writing is a little rough at times.  It’s clear this is a first attempt at a novel.  Erikson has great world building and settings in this book, but too many of the characters don’t feel the same as they do in later books.  Most of them feel more distant and cold, there’s not as much depth or warmth to his characterization in this book.  I chalk this up to the screenplay adaptation, and to Erikson’s relative inexperience as a writer.  His characterization is much more consistent hereafter.

Thirdly, the writing itself is extremely dense.  All his books are dense in this same way, but later books have the advantage of building on the characters and story lines that have come in previous books.  As a reader, you appreciate the denseness because you’re already sold on the story, and you want as much detail and information as you can get.  This book does not have that advantage, as a reader you don’t have a lot of investment in those things yet.  This can be very off putting for a first time reader.

Strengths

However, if you can push past these issues you will find a book that sets up one of the most amazing series of books I’ve ever read.  I wrote about how much I love Steven Erikson in the introduction post of this series, but I truly can’t say enough about how much I love these books.  And Gardens of the Moon starts the whole thing off.  Once you get used to Erikson’s style, reading the series becomes like a puzzle, or a mystery. The fact that you don’t have all the exposition means that your understanding of the way the world works is always in question.

From the very beginning, Erikson gives little hints at how this world is put together, and how the different factions and characters play off of each other.  Just when you think you’ve put all the clues together and figured out how something works, the magic system for example, Erikson drops a contradictory clue to challenge your solution.  Or he comes right out and says it doesn’t work the way you think it does.  However, if you pay close enough attention, you might solve a mystery correctly.  This is about as rewarding an experience as I’ve ever had reading a book.  The challenge of getting through the writing, trying to understand the world and the characters, and finally putting all the pieces together yourself is incredibly gratifying.  It is for this reason that the whole series truly rewards a re-read unlike anything else I’ve ever read.  When you complete the series, you immediately want to start the whole series over again to pick up on all the foreshadowing and clues, some of which doesn’t pay off for 8 or 9 books.  It’s really a remarkable achievement in foreshadowing that Erikson was able to plot out these intricate details a decade ahead of time and have them pay off all the way at the end of the series.

On top of this, the Gardens of the Moon is an enjoyable book.  It introduces the T’lan Imass, Jaghut, Tiste Andii, Darujhistan, Genebackis, Pale, Whiskeyjack, Fiddler, Kalam, Quick Ben, Apsalar, Ganoes Paran, Tattersail, Kruppe, Ralick Nom, Cutter, and more important races/names/places that have great impact on the entire series. There is no main character in this book or the series at large, the POV’s jump around constantly.  The characters are shades of gray, and the first impression the reader is given of a specific character is almost always incorrect.  The Malazan army and the Bridgeburners are the primary focus of the book, but they don’t always do the right thing.  Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii are initially shown as terrifying sky mages, but he by the end of the series his character basically becomes a Jesus Christ analogue. Even the “Big Bad” of the series isn’t given much screen time in this book, and when he finally does show up the reader’s understanding of him and his motivations changes many times before the end of the series.

READ IT

The flaws in this first book of the Malazan Book of the Fallen are more present and glaring than any other book in the series.  It is a book written by an inexperienced writer, adapted from a screenplay, and intentionally left vague and hard to read.  It takes a determined reader to get through it, and it’s understandable why so few people have followed through with the rest of the series.  However, the determined reader will be rewarded many times over as that initial hurdle leads to some of the most well plotted and characterized books I’ve ever read in my life.  Erikson’s writing improves immensely from this book to the next, and the series starts with it’s worst book.  This is still a good book, it’s just not near the level of writing that Erikson gets to in the rest of the series.  It’s all uphill from here.  The second book, Deadhouse Gates is next.  It’s my favorite book in the whole series.  I’ll probably get a lot more into plot and characters in the next post, so that will be coming soon.

Ultrasound

Our first real ultrasound.

We had our first real ultrasound yesterday.  I didn’t know there were different types of ultrasounds, but I guess the one we had at the OB’s office was a smaller version of a real ultrasound. For this appointment, we went to an actual ultrasound clinic.  Instead of a tiny little computer screen, we had a big screen TV at the foot of the bed displaying our baby.

My wife is technically a high risk pregnancy since she is a type 1 diabetic.  She’s had diabetes since she was a little girl, so it’s nothing new for her.  However, the doctor wants to make sure everything is good with the baby, so we had this ultrasound much sooner than normal.  Every picture we’ve seen of the baby so far has been so small and low resolution that it was hard to tell we were even looking at a baby.  This time, it was very clearly a baby.  We saw arms, legs, head, spine, etc.  We also saw the baby actually move around.  It looked like hiccups, but the ultrasound tech says all babies twitch like that.

One thing that happened yesterday is the tech tried to take a 3d image. of the baby.  If you’ve never seen one of these images, here’s a stock image from Google:

3d ultrasound image.
3d ultrasound image.

I haven’t seen one of these pictures that I like.  They’re always grainy with that weird orange/yellowish tint, and the baby’s skin always looks like melted candle wax.  Maybe I’m a little old school, but I can wait until the baby is born to see the face.  We’re also going to wait to find out the gender, so I’m probably not the target demographic for finding out every tiny detail about your baby pre-delivery.  I enjoy waiting for the surprise.

The whole baby thing is becoming more and more real everyday.  My wife is starting to show, she’s moved into the second trimester, and I have to talk to HR about paternity leave.  It’s simultaneously exciting and scary.  I know it’s not a big deal for people who already have kids, but it’s my first time.  I don’t feel ready, even though we’re in a really good spot.  We got married, finished school, and both have decent jobs all before getting pregnant.  Materially, we’re ready for this.  I just don’t feel like I’ve done enough to prepare.  I’m reading a couple baby books and I started working on building a crib (expect progress posts coming soon), but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I’ve done enough.  July is fast approaching, and while I may feel a bit underprepared, my wife and I couldn’t be more excited.