Sunday Links for February 20, 2011

There’s been quite a controversy raging on the web this week about the nature of fantasy. Leo Grin, writing for Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood blog, set the whole thing off by arguing that fantasy is no longer heroic enough. Grin wants his fantasy to be like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Howard’s Conan novels. It’s not; now, he says, it’s just disgusting and immoral:

Soiling the building blocks and well-known tropes of our treasured modern myths is no different than other artists taking a crucifix and dipping it in urine, covering it in ants, or smearing it with feces. In the end, it’s just another small, pathetic chapter in the decades-long slide of Western civilization into suicidal self-loathing. It’s a well-worn road: bored middle-class creatives (almost all of them college-educated liberals) living lives devoid of any greater purpose inevitably reach out for anything deemed sacred by the conservatives populating any artistic field. They co-opt the language, the plots, the characters, the cliches, the marketing, and proceed to deconstruct it all like a mad doctor performing an autopsy. Then, using cynicism, profanity, scatology, dark humor, and nihilism, they put it back together into a Frankenstein’s monster designed to shock, outrage, offend, and dishearten.

One of the authors Grin takes off after is Joe Abercrombie, who, in his opinion, writes nothing but “Endless scenes of torture, treachery and bloodshed drenched in scatology and profanity conclud[ing] with a resolution worthy of M. Night Shyamalan at his worst, one that did its best to hurt, disappoint, and dishearten any lover of myths and their timeless truths.” Abercrombie, not surprisingly, doesn’t quite agree with Grin’s assessment in his own blog post, entitled “Bankrupt Nihilism.” Abercrombie’s piece seems mostly to say that the kind of heroic fantasy Grin wants to read is plentiful, and that, besides, why should everyone keep writing Tolkien and Howard instead of trying something new? Given how much I admired Best Served Cold (reviewed here), it won’t surprise many of my readers that I’m on Abercrombie’s side in this.

But it didn’t end there. Lots of folks waded in and made their opinions known: Adam Whitehead, R. Scott Bakker, John C. Wright, John ONeill, Jeff VanderMeer, Paul Charles Smith, Patrick St-Denis, Philip Athans and Cheryl Morgan. If you’ve the time to peruse the comments, you’ll find some great debate going on there. And somehow it all ultimately devolves into liberals vs. conservatives, and it’s all political. I guess come the Tea Party revolution, we’ll all be allowed to read only uplifting books. Which sounds like a nice idea for a fantasy – well, make that horror – short story.

Kevin Brockmeier made it onto my list of favorite authors with Now he’s got a new book out called The Illumination, and I’m eager to read it. Jeff VanderMeer interviewed Brockmeier for Omnivoracious, and the interview is full of good stuff.

Larry Nolen makes me nuts. The guy reads at least a book a day, it seems, and is able to read in multiple languages (and no, that’s not an exaggeration – he read 40 books in January 2011; check out his blog sometime). And he does this on top of working a full-time job and blogging for a couple of different spots. His opinions about fantasy don’t always line up with mine, but when he writes about the best heroic fantasy of the year, I pay attention. I just wish I read Spanish so that I could read two of the books that made his list. I guess I can always just hope for a translation.

Looking for some free SF/F/H, but don’t want to violate anyone’s copyright? Good for you. As your reward, here’s a source for lots of legal free stuff.

If you’re anything like me, you’re waiting with enormous impatience for Patrick Rothfuss’s new book, The Wise Man's Fear, to appear. I really can’t wait, and I reserved a signed copy some time ago at my favorite local independent bookstore, M Is For Mystery. (Yes, it’s mostly a specialty mystery bookstore, but the owner – a retired mergers and acquisitions lawyer, by the way – is smart enough about books to know when he should carry something in a different genre, especially if he has access to signed copies). If you want to get an advance taste, has an excerpt up.

I want to reread The Name of the Wind before I launch into The Wise Man's Fear. I rarely reread books because there’s simply too much waiting for me to get to it, but there are a few books I’ve perused more than once, and will read again: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, A.S. Byatt’s Possession, and Roger Zelazny’s The Great Book of Amber among them. SFSignal asked a bunch of SF/F/H writers what they reread, and the answers are sufficiently interesting to send me running back to my bookshelves.

Speaking of previews, HBO has issued a behind-the-scenes video for its production of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. I sure hope they’re doing this one right; it’d be a fine bit of television if they did.

More television: I was riveted to Jeopardy! this past Monday through Wednesday, when the show’s two most masterful champions faced off against Watson, and IBM computer, and lost decisively. Ken Jennings’s Final Jeopardy answer included the line, “I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords,” which won him an award for humor in my book, but also gave me a bit of a chill. Kevin Gold scoffs at my chill, saying that this victory was actually one for humanity, not for the machines it created. He concludes, “I, for one, welcome our new mastery over the world’s knowledge.” Andrew Liptak concurs, essentially demoting Watson to “an interesting programming trick.”

I’m watching Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series, and I have to say that I just don’t like Matt Smith’s Doctor nearly as much as I loved David Tennant’s. Nor do I think Steve Moffatt’s writing is the equal of Russell Davies’s, even though Moffatt wrote some fine episodes in the first four series. Abigail Nussbaum wrote a fine essay about the Fifth Series some time ago, but I think what needs to be said was really voiced by Adolf Hitler. He wasn’t right about anything else, but this he’s got down.

Even more TV: "Whose Line Is It Anyway” takes on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

As usual, we end with just a touch of whimsy. Have you ever wondered what your favorite author would look like if he were built out of Legos? Wonder no more.


You stated your reasons for re-reading Name of the Wind in anticipation for the follow up but what brings your back to Austen, Byatt, and Zelazny?

Re-Read--and Re-post?

I just did something that appears to have wiped out my oh-so-clever comment. I'm going to try to re-create it and hope it doesn't show up twice. I'm also going to try to figure out what I did to erase it the first time.

It's about time to re-read Possession. I was swept away by the story the first time, now it's time to go back and look at how she did what she did.

A writer I frequently re-read is John Crowley, because every time I do I uncover something I've missed on previous reads. I would re-read Little, Big, which is, in my opinion, the essential American fantasy novel, but I'm afraid it would send me on a decades-long slide into suicidal self-loathing, because it doesn't have any ignorant, big-thewed, half-naked barbarians slicing open wyrms with bid old swords; it just has great characters, a world that is different from ours, and gorgeous language; certainly nothing there that I would want to encourage.

Mocking Religion?

I'm thinking maybe Grin didn't actually read any Robert E Howard, that he just saw the movies. If he had read any of the Conan stories, I would think he'd be a bit uncomfortable with his hero's reaction to organized religion. As I recall, Conan made a habit of killing clergy and knocking down temples.Of course, they weren't Christian, so it was probably all right.


Because I love them

Chad, there's no complicated reason why I reread those books; it's simply because they're my favorites. I can remember where I was and what I was doing with my life at the time I first read each of them, and that somehow spices them as well. I particularly remember what a revelation Possession was to me -- I'd never read anything like it (and I still haven't, I think). It just utterly fascinated me. I read it over a three-day weekend and did almost nothing else, just read and read and read. It was a marvelous experience.

Fantasy as a political force

Marion, I still haven't read any Crowley. It's shameful, I know, but I keep getting bogged down in his prose. I react to his work the way I do to Moby-Dick -- I love it while I reading it, but it's easy to set down and hard to pick up. I feel like a need to set aside a week or two to do nothing but read his stuff sometime, especially the Aegypt quartet.

And yes, I'm surprised that the writer of the first piece cited in my links doesn't criticize Howard for his attitude toward religion. But, as you point out, it wasn't Christians he was beating up, so that's okay. I'm sorry to get political about this, but I see this as typical to conservatives -- they don't much care if those who aren't perfectly aligned with their interests get slaughtered. We saw this play out in Egypt, where suddenly freedom was a bad thing. I find it most disheartening.


If you choose The Aegypt Quartet, you may be starting with the most difficult of all his work. If you haven't read anything by him, might I suggest The Translator? The magical part is quite subtle and on the surface it's a straightforward story about a woman poet who, in the early 1960s at a Midwestern college, met a Russian poet/defector, and his influence on her. All very simple. . . maybe. I love the book, but I also think it's an "appetizer" to his dense prose. There are some writers whose work is very layered and challenging, and yet I can't turn away from it once I start; Crowley is one, Peter Hoek (translated from the Danish) is another.



I do have The Translator -- I'll give it a try. What about Lord Byron's Novel, or whatever it's called? I have a particular interest in Byron, so maybe that'd be a good point of entry for me?

I do have a signed first edition of Aegypt -- I'm pretty sure that's worth a pretty penny by now!

Okay, But Not Great

Well, if you have an interest in Lord Byron then I would be interested in your take. I thought it was weak, although he did do a couple of clever things; create an epistolary novel using e-mail, for instance. He tries to rehabilitate Roman Polansky (not by name, of course) and I'm not sure he was successful. As I recall, I found "Lord Byron's novel" itself kind of annoying. Definitely a lesser work.


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