Blizzcon 2015

I am just back from Blizzcon, brainstunned with jetlag, so this will probably be pretty incoherent. I was there to help promote Illidan, my upcoming World of Warcraft novel, due in March 2016. Number one son, Dan, came along. Having accompanied me through the depths of Black Temple and across the wastes of Outland while I was doing my research for the book, it seemed only right that he brave the depths of Anaheim Convention Center with me.

We flew into LAX on Wednesday evening and spent Thursday wandering around, locating the convention centre and basking in the blue skies and balmy climate. Disneyland was just round the corner from our hotel. Somehow we fought off the urge to spend $300 to visit the Lair of the Mouse Lord. In the evening we had a very pleasant dinner with Sarah, Keith and Joe from Del Rey.

Friday was the first day of the convention. We had exhibitor badges so we got in before the crowds. This meant we were just in time to witness the human tsunami of 25000 plus attendees rushing in when the doors opened. We went with the flow and found ourselves in excellent centre row seats for the Opening Ceremony.

During the course of this we saw the cinematic for Legacy of the Void, the trailer for the new World of Warcraft movie and the cast and director Duncan Jones live on stage. I had to leave for my first signing before we got to the World of Warcraft section. I was sorry to miss this.

The signings were great. Everyone was so enthusiastic. I was very jetlagged and thus even more inarticulate than usual. My right hand  felt compelled to write For the Horde instead of people’s names when it came to inscribing dedications. It just came naturally in the setting. Somehow I ended up on an artists panel at one point. I don’t think my stick figure Illidans were quite as impressive as the other people’s work but I did my best. Someone even recognised me as the model for Horus from Adrian Smith’s famous picture and introduced me to his wife as the Warmaster. That’s not something that happens every day.

The big thing for me were getting to try out the new Demon Hunter hero class in its starting zone. This was awesome. I am very much looking forward to getting to grips with the class for real when Legion goes live next year. As it was I spent a fair amount of time taking the war to the minions of Kil’jaeden.

Dan and I saw the Arena PvP semi-finals on Friday and the finals on Saturday. This was between two European sides, Skillcapped EU and SK Gaming. The two teams were perfectly matched and the battle went right to the wire. In the end SK Gaming won a well-deserved victory, while both sides were running on mana fumes.

The Anaheim arena was full of statues of familiar figures from all the Blizzard IPs. I trotted up to the Starcraft hall to pay my respects to the Queen of Blades. I attended to the WoW Designers panel—a lot of exciting stuff coming up there: artefact weapons, some interesting sounding class revamps and a whole new area to explore as the Burning Legion returns to Azeroth. I managed to get a brief glimpse of Overwatch which looks astonishing.

There was a lot going on and I didn’t get to see half of it. Mostly what remains are memories of the people—their enthusiasm and good cheer. It was a great weekend. Hopefully I will be back next year.

Hunting for Trolls in Oslo

Let’s get the downsides out of the way first. Norway is expensive. I mean eye-wateringly, wallet-numbingly expensive. Let me put it in perspective. Norway and the Czech Republic both use a currency called the crown. Things are more or less exactly the same price in crowns in both countries. The difference is that there are roughly 9 Norwegian Crowns to the British Pound and 30 Czech Crowns. That means things are approximately 330% more expensive in Norway compared to the Czech Republic. For those of you who don’t live in Prague, this translates into roughly £11 or $17 for a Big Mac Meal. Should you drink alcohol, the price differences become even worse because of the local tax regime. The second downside is the trolls, of which more later. 

We arrived in Oslo last Friday and stayed in the Comfort Grand Central hotel. If you’re planning a lot of rail travel in Norway I recommend the place, not only is it stylish, the staff are friendly and it’s inside the Central Station. It is comfortable, and much to my suprise, quiet. When you have finished the ultra-swift 19 minute rail journey from the airport, you can sleep overnight and be 5 minutes walk from the platform for the express to Bergen. It’s also 5 minutes walk from the city centre and the National Opera House, a particularly impressive building.

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Now I know you are looking at my photograph and thinking, Bill, it’s just a glass block sticking out of the side of some white concrete, but you are missing the big picture here, which is the thing I cannot give you because my photograph was taken while walking up the side of the National Opera House. It holds the distinction of being the only iconic building I have ever strode up the side of to get to the roof. The building is like a large concrete iceberg rising from Oslo harbour.

Or perhaps more accurately, with all of its sharp lines and glass extrusion, it resembles an Imperial Star Destroyer partially submerged in Oslo harbour. Let’s face it, this is the sort of architectural statement any modern nation ought to be proud to make. Should Scotland gain its independence I vote that our National Opera House be a concrete (fully operational) Death Star partially sunk in the waters off Leith. We’d just be following a trend. London has already gone this route— once the great burning eye is in place over the Shard, Sauron will have a fine new town house and let’s be honest,  you couldn’t find a better symbol for the City of London financial district.

The National Opera House in Oslo is strikingly lovely, and a great place to lounge on a summer evening. It’s a brilliant setting for sitting on the edge of the water, with the waves coming almost to your feet and boring your kids with tales of your youth misspent around Stranraer Harbour. That’s what I did, anyway. Time well spent.

Next day we headed across Oslo Harbour by ferry to visit the Viking Ship Museum where they have two and a half-fully reconstructed 9th Century Viking Ships dug out of burial mounds by archaelogists along with the grave goods. The oddest thing about the ships is how lovely they are. They are sleek and deadly looking and beautifully carved like big bits of old wooden furniture sitting in the middle of the museum rooms. They are exactly 29 of my paces long and 6 of my paces wide.

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For scale, the picture has a 6 foot tall Scottish Fantasy writer standing in front of one. It is a bit boggling to imagine crossing oceans in one of these, but, of course, that is exactly what the Vikings did. And I’ll tell you something, I would not want a boatload of berserk Norwegians showing up at the foot of my garden in one of these things to the present day. A boatload of trolls now, that’s a different thing…

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Our hunt for trolls was finally rewarded on Saturday evening. We found one, and what a letdown, as you can probably tell from the picture. I came to Oslo expecting a good battle with a monstrous night creature but when I produced my battle-axe it was all over in seconds. The thing didn’t put up much of a fight at all. It must have had some sort of strange mind control powers though because the local shop-keeper called the police as I did mortal combat with the fell beast. And here was I doing him a favour too, freeing him from the troll’s spell. What an ingrate.

I can now report from experience that modern trolls would not last 30 seconds in a Glasgow bar on a Saturday night. And Tolkien got it wrong, when exposed to sunlight trolls don’t turn to stone, they turn to plastic although that’s may be just evolution at work.

Anyway, now seemed like the time to flee Oslo and head out into the wilderness. Next stop, Hoth.

Off To Norway

Number One Son and I are off to Norway to hunt for trolls so there may be no blogging or replies to comments for a bit. It depends on whether there is internet in troll country or not. In the proud tradition of this blog I may put up some photos of the trip in a few months if I remember to. Back soon with some troll scalps. 

Back!

My apologies — six weeks have passed without a post, which is my longest period of radio silence since I started this blog. In my defence I will say I have both been busy and on holiday. I was travelling in Asia– Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia to be specific. 

My original plan was to write about my trip as it happened. If you follow this blog you’ll have noticed how successful that was. I blame this on the fact that I was having a good time and to the fact that I quite frankly prefer wandering around interesting, exotic places than to blogging about them.

It’s a truism of keeping a travel diary that the days that are the least interesting are the days when you write most, and the days which are really exciting are the ones on which you write least. The reasons are obvious– when the days are full of incident and excitement you have less time to write them up. On the days that are dull, time hangs heavy on your hands, and you write up your notes to fill it up. The same thing apparently applies to blog posts. You can tell from the lack of blogging that I was having a good time. 

I’d like to give a shout out to Edwin Cheung and Walter Wu in Hong Kong, Francis Wolf in Kuala Lumpur, Rommel Farid and Patrick Ong in Penang and Damien Chua and Dongkye in Singapore. I’d just like to thank them all for their exceptional hospitality and for showing me around their home towns. Getting such an insiders view of things as a traveller is a gift beyond price. I’d also like to thank Black Library’s own Mal Green for putting me in touch with some of these excellent people in the first place. 

It wasn’t all swanning around in glamorous and exotic locales. I did actually do some work, which is how this travel gets funded. I polished the final draft of the second Macharius book, Fist of Demetrius. I wrote about 60% of the fourth Kormak book, City of Strife, and I revised the third Kormak book, Weaver of Shadow, which is with my editor now. I  also did some book signings in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Hong Kong, where I got to chat with a lot of excellent people about Tyrion and Teclis and the Space Wolves among other things. I hope to be writing more about this and posting some pics in the not too distant future. 

And on that note, I will shut up. Hopefully it won’t be six weeks until my next post.

The Ossuary at Sedlec

At the weekend my old friend Barry was in Prague. He wanted to see the Ossuary at Sedlec so we headed out there on what was the hottest September day I can remember. It’s been a long time since I visited the Bone Church, maybe 15 years, and I had forgotten quite how strange a place it is.

King Ottokar of Bohemia sent Henry, the Abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Sedlec to the Holy Land in 1278. The holy man returned with what was believed to be earth from Golgotha and  sprinkled it over the abbey cemetery. This made the graveyard a very fashionable place to be buried indeed. During the Black Death in the mid 14th century and the Hussite Wars in the early 15th century, thousands of people were laid to rest there. Around 1400 the Gothic Church of All Saints was built in the center of the cemetery. The lower chapel became an ossuary to hold the bones exhumed from the graveyard during it’s construction. In 1870, the Schwarzenberg family hired  František Rint to organise the bones of the 40000 people in there. Rint was a man of considerable talent and rather odd humour as you can tell from what he did.  He turned all those bones into some rather remarkable and strange works of art; chandeliers, coats of arms and altars.

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The crypt is pretty large and, as you would expect, full of skulls and bones and the things Rint made. It’s hard to describe the effect this has. At first, it all feels like a stage-set, one of those things that you see in horror movies or Indiana Jones. Slowly though as you wander around it sinks in; these are really human bones. These were once real people just like you. Then it becomes a bit disturbing. The skulls and bones seem smaller than you would expect. I’m not sure whether that’s because people were smaller back then or just because skulls really are smaller than you would think. Anyway, it’s an interesting place. I would like to thank my wife Radka for letting me use her pictures here.

 

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