Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Blade Itself can go toss itself.

After reading endless glowing reviews of Mr. Abercrombies book series at numerous blogs and from several first hand encounters of his fans at the local super store.. I decided to take the plunge and bought the books. I started reading, and it started out ok.. until hundreds of pages in I found myself wishing a meteor would strike the world which he had created. none of his characters has a single redeeming quality, they torture, rape, murder. They are all scum, none of them are viewable as anything but a long series of antagonists.. I keep waiting for the hero to show up, but I've figured it out after 300 or so pages.. there is no hero..

This series is simply another lame "Grim n Gritty" where the protagonists are so crooked and foul they might as well just be villains.

It's the result of this that I've become less and less interested in any new fantasy books of late, it's always the same couple of writers who get brought up over and over and over again, Bakker, Morgan, Abercrombie, Meivelle. .. well so far of the ones I've sampled I've hated them all, it just goes to prove, just because something is popular dosen't mean it is good. I guess this must have been what it was like in the 60's when Sci-Fi got into its newwave funk and basically never recovered. Seems thats all we get these days, humourless grim purposefully outrage inducing sadomasochistic drek. Well, that or yet another rehash of the tired old "Bad girl kills assorted denizens of the night" stuff.

I don't even know what to review to be bluntly honest, and up to the point where I flung the book across the room with an exasperated grunt and an eye roll which I've not had reason to employ since high school.. by that point absolutely nothing had happened except a long string of tortures, a few near rapes, and a couple of child murders. The only honourable character in the whole book was the bloody cook pot, and he got abandoned in the woods fifty pages in.

You see, people these days tend to like to feel that real life is a series of shades of grey. No one is ever really right or wrong, and their are no moral certainties. But that's not how life really is. Some people are wrong, and some people are right, and fate willing, those who are right get to impose themselves on the rest of us before the people who are wrong do. But this is seldom the case, and I don't wish to be reminded of that, if I want to see the work room floor of the sausage shop, I'll watch the news.

I read Fantasy as a genre because the good guys are identifiable as such and generally do the right thing, even if it's only really out of self interest. the bad guys are bad, and no one expects me to care about their motivation. And everyone is happy when the bad guy's mountain fastness explodes at the end and the hero goes back to the tavern to spend his hard earned gold on booze and wenches or back to his village to start a pig farm, or the girl grows up to be Queen and reclaim her throne.


Trey said...

Whether you liked the book or not is completely subjective, of course, but I think you're being a bit unfair. Ninefingers, for instance, is neither "crooked nor foul." He actually seems an ok guy, but happens to do (very) violent things for a living--and quite regrets some of them--something Conan never really did.

Jezal is a self-centered prick, true enough, but that's his starting position. Must your fantasy be without character development?

Likewise, I don't see that any of Morgan's protagonists (I assume it's Steel Remains your talking about) are worse than Fafhrd or Gray Mouser or Conan, all of whom are guilty of rape (or at least attempted rape in Conan's case) and murder.

I will allow the tone and graphicness of how these things are portrayed these days is different, so perhaps that's what you're reacting against?

Lagomorph Rex said...

I came into Fantasy through writers like Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis and of Course Tolkien. I've been a fan of that style for a very long time, I've only been a fan of "Sword and Sorcery" for about 5 years now.. since I got the first Conan book.. and yes, some of the Conan stories nearly make me cringe.

so you are absolutely right, it could entirely be tone. Robert E. Howard no doubt would have written stuff similar to this had he been alive today and could have gotten away with it.. but thankfully he wasn't or I would be lashing out at him here. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser did it with such a tongue in cheek wink and nod it was ok.. they were lovable rogues..

The only character I've read who isn't, would be Elric. He's not a very good person at all.. but even he manages to save Melnibone when he has too.

Now that I'm looking back at it, after my bit of a rage out, I see that I am being unfair. But after sitting up half the night, desperately trying to make myself like the book.. I was just so frustrated I lashed out at it. Converse to "The Steel Remains" which I thankfully was tipped off about and have never bothered to even glance twice at.

You are also right about me being unfair in that I didn't even say anything about the book itself other than that I didn't like it. Well it was a very well written book. stylistically. I just didn't like the content.

But the book at least does share illustrious company, the last book I tossed across the room was Gravities Rainbow.

Brian Murphy said...

Hi Lagomorph, I have not read Abercrombie's books (though I am hoping to try them one day), so I cannot comment on them specifically. But I do know exactly how you feel about series that are relentlessly grim and gritty and "realistic" to the point of evoking disgust and disengagement with the reader.

I loved George R.R. Martin's first 2 1/2 books in his Song of Ice and Fire series, but there's an event in book 3 (A Storm of Swords) called The Red Wedding which is near soul-destroying. As a result of that and events continuing into book 4 (A Feast of Crows), I've lost a lot of interest in the series. The characters that remain are mostly not ones I care about or empathize with. In fact, the series has become so grim that it's almost predicatable (think Murphy's law--anything that can go wrong will, and at the worst possible moment).

We do read fantasy for many reasons, including escape, and if a book fills you with active revulsion or depresses the spirit then I would argue there's no need to press on and it can be discarded.

Now, I'm not condeming darkness or realism in fantasy as I think these are important subjects. But if I want to plumb the depths of mankind's darker side there's plenty of non-fiction books on these subjects to choose from. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, for instance. I don't necessarily need darkness without the hope of light in my fantasy.

Lagomorph Rex said...

I actually read the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich not long ago Brian, I found it to be highly interesting, and while it had its moments.. I don't even know how to describe them really.. I knew in the end that evil met its end at Nuremburg because good people did something, even if it was a little slower than it should have been.

You saying that about GRRM though has really made me wonder if I should bother reading his books or not.. Not that it really matters.. since I wouldn't do it till he's finished it anyway.

I wouldn't say that the Joe Abercrombie book was "Relentlessly soul crushing" It was just an exceptionally boring book, with a few punctuation marks of torture described in great detail.

Opal said...

I'm thinking about reading The Blade itself, so I was interested to read your comments.

If Abercrombie has failed to make you care about the outcomes of his major characters, then he has failed as a writer.

I anticipate that GRRM has some great scenes, redemptions, character development, and yes, more failures ahead, and that's what is keeping ASOIAF fresh. I found myself deeply caring about many of his characters, one way or another: wishing to see evil vanquished and good prevail, but the odds not looking rosy. I want to find out the outcomes of their passions and struggles. I trust him enough as a writer to believe that he isn't interested in simply punishing his reader's heartfelt hopes.

It's also true if you have a low tolerance for graphic violence in literature, that's going to affect your reading preferences. I was wondering why you were reading Abercrombie, since he's known for writing "gritty" fantasy? Sound like you should avoid that sort of thing since it's not to your taste?

Lagomorph Rex said...

well I didn't really know anything about him until I'd gotten the book, I just had seen a lot of people talking about him.

I think it was because I'd read the Glen Cook "Black Company" books this year, and one of the book store employees who generally sends me in the right direction had said " If you like those.. read this " and I'd seen it mentioned a lot of times on forums and it had glowing amazon reviews, so I went back and bought all 3 of them in one go... So part of my anger at the book is probably misdirected anger at myself for letting the hype convince me to buy it.

The black company may be a load of murderers and what have you.. but Glen cook finds a way to make you care for each and everyone of them.. reading the "Glittering stone" series was excruciating as one and then another of these great characters was killed or simply died of old age. Goblin and One-Eye are great characters.. I even felt something for Toad Killer Dog! But I can't say that Joe Abercrombie managed to acheive the same.

I don't need all flowers and fluffy bunnies.. the best Fantasy series I've read in the last two years was Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and it's one I intend to re-read again. I just like to have some occasional highs to balance out the lows a bit... and mainly I want characters that I'm not entirely ambivalent towards.

Lagomorph Rex said...

I'd meant to put in that last reply, I'd bought the books some time ago before I really new anything about them except they were " Great " and what ever other glowing words of praise they garner.. I've only just now gotten round to reading them.

Something similar happened to me with KJParker.. where by the end of the book.. the few characters I cared about had turned into people I couldn't care about anymore. But even there I managed to find enough to keep going for the nearly 2000 page long Engineer Trilogy.

David J. West said...

The Blade Itself was strange for me in how 'shades of grey' it was, I too was raised in Prydain, Narnia and Middle Earth and am a relative latecomer to Hyboria.

The end of TBI did kinda tick me off and I had to keep going on in Before They Are Hanged-which definetly threw some loops-but Last Argument of Kings really won me over-even though I am left hanging for what happens next to some of the characters.

Abercrombie will really have to drop the ball in The Heroes, (I'm 100 pages in) before I would write him off.

Lagomorph Rex said...

well Thats what I've been told many times now David, that I simply didn't give it enough time to hook me.

I'm not unwilling to go back and give it another chance, It's just going to require a lot of factors being just right to get me to do it.

At the moment too I'm far more interested in some the new book by Peter O'rulian coming out..

David J. West said...

I haven't heard of him-I'll have to keep my eyes open.