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Revisiting The Brothers’ War – a Magic: The Gathering novel

I pulled this off my shelf a few weeks ago after re-reading some of the earliest Armada Magic: The Gathering comics. (The Shadow Mage, Ice Age, Fallen Empires, and Antiquities War). Something about the Antiquities War mini-series reminded me of the acknowledgements in the novel to prior versions of the story of The Brothers’ War. And rediscovering that the comics left the “whole story” incomplete–Armada only got to publish 2/3 of their planned arc for the story–my interest was reignited.

A few years ago, I read Time Spiral, the first book in a trilogy of novels covering that block of Magic: The Gathering card sets; part of what really drew me in was that it revisited the world of Dominaria, which seemed to have been largely left behind after the Invasion block. And not really having read any of the books since Apocalypse, I was interested in seeing where Dominaria had wound up.

Anyway, The Brothers’ War.

This is easily one of my favorite books of all time–this is at least the third, maybe the fourth or fifth time I’ve read the novel cover to cover…something I do very rarely and with so few books.

This came out in 1998 or so, kicking off a huge line of MTG novels from Wizards of the Coast. There’d been another line of MTG novels (published through HarperPrism) several years earlier–but those were (for the most part) generic fantasy novels with the MTG “branding.” This line provided the actual story of the cards, the continuity of the game itself.

At least with the early MTG expansions, as WotC was world-building and beginning to pull everything together into one continuity (albeit across a multiverse), everything came back to the war between Urza and Mishra. Much of the detail was vague and loose–but what was clear was that a conflict between these brothers had caused much destruction and deeply impacted their world. An unnatural ice age actually descended on the world after the conflict, and the world itself was cut off from the multiverse for centuries.

But this novel went back to the beginning–Urza and Mishra as young boys, arriving at Tocasia’s school, where they began learning of artifacts and the Thran (an ancient civilization). They grew into the school–Mishra learning of the Fallaji, a desert-dwelling people while Urza focused on his inventions. Eventually, they visit an ancient cave, where they discover intact Thran artifacts, and are introduced to Phyrexia–a plane of living machines. They also each gain a half of an incredibly powerful Power Crystal. Mishra’s becomes known as the “Weakstone” as it can weaken artifacts while Urza’s becomes known as the “Mightstone” as it strengthens them and brings life to the machines.

From there, the brothers each covet the other’s half, leading to a rivalry that lasts the rest of their lives as the entire world eventually pays an astronomical cost for the brothers’ jealousy. Their rivalry results in the death of their teacher, sending the boys onto their own individual paths: Mishra into the desert where he becomes a part of the Fallaji, while Urza returns to “civilization” and marries into royalty. Eventually rising to top levels of government in each culture, the brothers have immense resources to throw at each other, draining the world’s resources in the process, until the only thing left is destruction.

The novel’s story is told in sections, each encapsulating a period of years in the brothers’ lives. All told, the novel spans over 60 years, following the brothers from being young boys into old age; a lifetime of conflict. Structurally, I find it interesting to see stories that do span characters’ entire lifetime (or the majority of it)…something to it seems more interesting and complete to me than just continuous stories all bunched into a small span of time.

This story also seeds the foundation of stories to come, as we are introduced to a number of prominent concepts that play out across much of the Magic: The Gathering continuity. We’re also introduced to some core concepts from the cards–getting backstory on prominent cards and locations, nicely “transforming” the source material into essentially adaptation material; that is, the book’s story draws from concepts set forth in the cards, but does so in such a way that the cards then can seem like they were adapted instead from the book.

This book is marked as the first volume of the Artifacts Cycle, but it truly stands alone as a self-contained story. There’s no “to be continued” or traditional-cliffhanger sort of ending. The end does leave an opening to transition into the larger MTG continuity, but you’d pretty much have to know where it goes to truly pick up on that; even knowing it myself, it’s a bit of a disconnect, like taking a standalone movie and then 15/20 years later making a sequel. The sequel can work and validly pick up the story, but the sequel is far from any sort of “essential” to the original.

For a 1998 book–now 14ish years old–this held up remarkably well. This could have been written in 2012 if I didn’t know any better. This has been reprinted in a “trade paperback”-sized edition combined with another early MTG book, The Thran. While I would definitely love to have a standard-sized hardback of just this novel, I’m not terribly interested in the “collected edition.”

What also proved surprising (and very disappointing) for me was that this book is NOT currently (late October 2012) available as an ebook. Perhaps I’m an extreme minority, but I would gladly have paid the $6-$8 for a nook-book edition, for the convenience of re-reading this on my phone’s nook app. Instead, I spent 4-5 weeks carrying my 1998 mass-market paperback edition around, which of late has been a less than ideal prospect.

I’m fairly tempted to re-read several of the other books from this series, though I lack (by far) the kind of time TO read that I had in late high school and early college. Honestly, the primary drawback is that these are not ebooks–if they were available that way, I’d be further tempted with the ability to buy/download them and have them on my phone, to jump into “whenever” spur of the moment.

If you’re into fantasy–even if you don’t care a lick about Magic: The Gathering the card game or anything from the past 10 years from MTG in general, this is well worth reading. For me, it’s been worth reading at least three times, and I enjoyed it as much now as I did in 1998 and 1999, with a number of scenes and “moments” having stuck with me that I’d forgotten came from this book.

MTG

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Revisiting Antiquities War on the World of Magic: The Gathering

Full post at FantasyRantz.wordpress.com.

A 2012 look at Acclaim/Armada‘s 1995-1996 mini-series detailing the start of the Brothers’ War saga.

Booking Through Thursday: Carry-Ons

btt button

Do you bring the book(s) you’re reading with you when you go out? How?
Physically, or in an e-reader of some kind? Have your habits in this
regard changed?

Yes–on my phone with the nook app for iOS. Otherwise, I try to keep a physical book at least in the car, and I have one in my desk at work.

My method has changed in the past year, as I largely adopted digital right around the turn of the year, opting to “go digital” for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest and every book since, until I found a book I really wanted to read (The Brothers’ War) that is not even available anywhere (legal) as an ebook. (I touched on that topic last week in a personal blog post.)

The habit of bringing books with me has not really change–my biggest problem has often been situations where I could get “stuck” with nothing to read and time to kill. But having stuff to read on my phone–the nook books, the ComiXology digital comics–means that so long as I have the phone with me (it’s extremely rare that I don’t, and would be indicative of a some other “issue” if I didn’t have it) I’m good on having “something” to read, even if it’s not what I’m “in the mood to read” at the time.

Whether it’s to go get an oil change, or meeting someone somewhere, going to a movie and getting there early but not wanting to put up with the commercials and such before the trailers/commercials attached to the film itself, or a number of other situations…it’s just good to have something handy to read without having to scrounge through the immediate environment.

In fact, I have The Brothers’ War in a used shopping bag (to protect it from the likely rain) hanging from the front door just to make sure I don’t somehow forget it and walk out without this morning.

Digital Books: Availability and Attitude

nooklibraryOver the past 10-11 months, I’ve become a definite digital convert. There was a time not too long ago where I couldn’t even begin to grasp the concept of buying or READING books digitally. I’m too much a fan of having the actual books, I thought. But after lugging around Stephen King‘s 11/22/63 for a couple weeks last year, after having done so with last year’s new Grisham book, and the trouble I had in acquiring the first Walking Dead novel, and so on, I’ve come to see benefits to ebooks…both on an actual ereader (I have a first generation Nook I bought used) as well as my phone (primarily the Nook app for iPhone).

For one thing, the ereader and/or phone are a fixed size, shape, weight. 200 pages or 1,000–size/shape/weight remain the same. The phone fits in my pocket, and I carry it with me pretty much everywhere anyway, so being able to have entire books on it is just bonus–and it’s so much easier to not have to haul a book around and remember to bring it with me and all that.

nookEqually important is availability, which has been the other selling point for me. Rather than having to run around to a bunch of stores looking for the book, all I have to do is go online and buy the book, and I’ve got access to it, full-text, virtually immediately. No paying extra for shipping, no waiting for shipping; no using gas to go to a physical store hoping they have it. It makes buying the reading experience–the text of the book–simple and convenient.

Or at least, if the book I’m interested in is available as an ebook.

The factor that really, until a few days ago, hadn’t exactly come into play for me.

astonishingxmenThere’s a new book out just in the last week or two–a prose novelization of The Astonishing X-Men: Gifted; the novelization is written by Peter David, no stranger to X-books. Not too long ago, I impulse-bought the novelization of Marvel’s Civil War, and quite enjoyed it; I was even excited at getting to read it while saving significantly from the $25 price point of the awkward squarish-dimensions of the print edition.

So I was quite surprised this past weekend when I resolved to buy this book to discover there’s no ebook counterpart. Not for the Nook, not for the Kindle…it’s hardcover in-print or nothing. Which is extremely disappointing.

This is not a book I’m prepared to buy in print, at least not first-run at full price; and there are so many graphic novels I’m after that I can’t see buying this instead at full price, nor having yet more shelfspace taken up by it. And this has stopped me dead in my tracks, as far as praising the digital format. I’m not interested in most of the ebook content out there, and it seems like week after week more new digital content (books and otherwise) get shoved at me, but now when I have a specific book in mind that I want to buy and read digitally…no one has it available.

brotherswarTrying to move past the disappointment and frustration, I decided today to look for The Brothers’ War by Jeff Grubb. I have the old mass-market paperback edition from 1998/1999 that I’ve read a couple times, but I want to re-read it. Though I would very much prefer NOT to have to re-read it as a MMPB, further cracking the spine, and having to wrestle the book to keep it open, constantly one hand firmly grasping it (if not both) to just read it.

But…there are maybe a dozen Magic: The Gathering books in ebook format, and it doesn’t look like ANY of the ones I’d be interested in (basically, the Artifacts, Ice Age, Masquerade, and Invasion Cycle-era books) are available digitally. I don’t know that I’d re-buy every book, re-read the ENTIRE series…but as I’m re-reading old MTG comics for a weekly piece I’m writing for a friend’s blog (Fantasy Rantz), I’m finding myself once again interested in the earlier MTG stories, including The Brothers’ War and possibly the rest of the Artifacts Cycle and maybe Invasion Cycle.

With none of these available and my aversion to their print editions for the moment…I’ve got some digital comics already on this phone, plenty of physical comics, and generally don’t NEED to buy any of these right now. Especially with another Walking Dead novel and the new Grisham book both coming next month, and I still have most of book 4 and all of book 5 of the Song of Ice and Fire series to get through…

Booking Through Thursday: Headlines

bookingthroughthursdaybuttonHmm … I can’t quite come up with an outright question to ask, but thinking about the theory of fiction and how it can affect and be affected by real world events can act as a buffer between the horrific events on the news and having to actually face that horror. So … what happens when the line between fiction and reality becomes all-too slim? Discuss!

We often use fiction to escape reality, or at least visit something beyond “reality,” so when the huge events of fiction happen in real life…or something from real life pops up in our fiction, it really can be a bit jarring.

dckingdomcomeIn DC ComicsKingdom Come—the novelization of the graphic novel, at least—there’s a scene where the main character is going about his life, and comes to realize that everyone around him is focused on a giant tv screen—where news of a nuclear explosion that’s wiped out much of Kansas is coming through.

The morning of September 11, 2001 was eerily like that for me. I got out of an early morning class, to find the entire lobby filled with people, all focused on a  single tv on a cart someone had wheeled out of an office. It was a standing crowd, and people lined the stairs, no one really talking, everyone just taking in the shocking news.

I recall coming across a quote that I believe was attributed to Grant Morrison, then writer of New X-Men:

“How close is the real world coming to the comic world?  We were talking about crazy madmen launching attacks on the world years ago.”

bttexmachinaThen there’s Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughan…whose premiere issue brought a huge surprise twist as its cliffhanger, providing a huge “what if..?” and setting itself in an “alternate reality” from our own, splintered off based on what happened that day.

In the last several weeks, I’ve been on an Ultimate X-Men tear, reading from early in the series right up to Ultimatum in barely a week…and then realizing that I actually now own Ultimatum, reading that as part of the experience…the whole thing also filling out my knowledge from the confusion I had last year when I read about half of the Ultimate Spider-Man series.

ultimatumIn Ultimatum, a huge tidal wave suddenly strikes Manhattan, destroying it. The various heroes rally to deal with the disaster—but many of their own are lost when the “Ultimatum Wave” first hits, and many others are lost in the aftermath.

There’s also reference to Europe freezing, as it seems Magneto managed to switch the magnetic poles of the planet, and the destruction caused is world-wide.

In the Magic: The Gathering novels, the early books in the series begun in 1998 with The Brothers’ War…we find all sorts of disaster, localized and global…all of which affect the local or global culture.mtgapocalypse

Additionally, this is seen in the Dragonlance novels, where an entire continent is devastated by a “fiery mountain from the sky” that completely destroys one city, and causes a huge upheaval that changes the terrain (another city famed for its sea and ships finds itself suddenly landlocked without a sea).

Given how I’m rambling a bit here…I would really suspect it possible to write a whole series of posts, each one focusing on and digging into any of these examples individually, and so many more. I’ll probably kick myself later today as more examples come to me.

Ah, yes: The Sum of All Fears. I don’t honestly recall if I’ve read the book, but I certainly saw the movie…and I recall that freaking me out.

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