Friday, July 29, 2011

George Lucas's Red Tails.

Found this trailer at Yahoo.

I'm really looking forward to seeing this movie. I hope it heralds the return of George Lucas to the quality and love he injected into the first Star Wars.

Terrance Howard looks like hes going to be bringing his A-Game to this. It's also nice to see Cuba Gooding Junior back.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Middle Earth and Mangroves.

I don't really care much for the Guardian Newspaper of Great Britain. I want to make that explicitly clear. I dislike them because of their usual insistence on being snobs (much like any newspaper) when it comes to books and films. So I was rather surprised when I found this rather glowing recommendation for The Lord of the Rings.

Generally when one reads a Guardian review of a Fantasy novel.. or especially of one written by such an unrepentant "Luddite" "Monarchist" "Religiously slanted" not to mention "Racist" author as Tolkien.. it's generally to point out how He (It's always a he) fails to live up to their glorious multicultural ideals, and thus why no one should bother reading them.. After all, they tend to inform you, there is a book about a quadruple amputee transvestite jihadist that you should read instead.

Occasionally however they do produce, or rather publish a writer who isn't quite so pretentious. This is one of them. It's a short tale, but it's interesting to see Tolkiens words framed around the herbology of Lagos. The mangrove swamps and lillies and bullfrogs.

It further illustrates just how massive a treasure trove Africa is as a setting for Fantasy. Not the old "white man interacting with savages" style.. but the type of Fantasy that Charles Saunders writes. Maybe one of these days we will get a fantasy author who takes full advantage of the abundance of magical resources at their disposal, and who is also lucky enough to get popular for doing it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dropping a series.

I'm sure we have all done it. You get to the point where you just cannot take the author's work anymore. Or, you simply cannot take the author any more. You have two choices basically when this happens, you can skim, flip forward, hope things get better, get back on track, get back to what you originally saw in the work to begin with.

Or you can simply drop the series. Abandoned halfway or sometimes even less. It's a very extreme measure, but I've found recently I've been doing it more and more.

Last year, I only abandoned one book without finishing it. Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself. I managed to soldier through Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth, but not without skimming huge chunks of the last four books. By the time I got to book 8 of that, I was forcing myself to read 50 pages a day of them. I had it marked on the calender when I'd finally finish that last page of Confessor. But I only abandoned one book.

This year I've already abandoned one book, without finishing it, David Foster Wallace's The Infinite Jest. Like Gravities Rainbow, better men than me have abandoned that. Worse, I've abandoned two series. Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin series, and Kate Elliot's Crown of Stars series. Both for the same reason. To much talk Wheeljack, Not enough action.

After the rollicking start that O'Brian's series had, and its eventual and meteoric pickup of steam leading up to the war of 1812 I read each volume faster than the last. Once the war was joined however, the author slammed on the brakes. They became distended plays dealing chiefly with manners. It suddenly took an entire book to say what he previously said in a chapter. He also began to subtly change the characters alignment. Maturin went from being Chaotic good, to lawful Evil. Aubrey went from Knight in shining armour to indifferent and apathetic. They quit being characters I liked. But they are living still, and its possible that some where buried in the depths of books 11-20 that their previous selves are waiting to be re-discovered by me. That may or may not happen. I rarely give a series a second chance.

Kate Elliot's series on the other hand, I never liked. I read it hoping for another series similar to Tad Williams. Her name is frequently mentioned as being "The Other author inspired by Tad Williams" The chief one being George R.R. Martin. The problem is, nothing ever happens in Kate Elliot's books. Originally intended to be a trilogy, the Crown of Stars grew to encompass 7 volumes. It's a shame too. It probably would have been a fantastic trilogy. Instead she bogs it down with countless diversions into the social standings of various underclasses in her pseudo invented world. I say Pseudo, because all she really seems to have done is replaced any instance of a Male name in history with a Feminine name. Constantine becomes Constance, Alexander becomes Alexandria, on and on, ad nauseum. I know too much about history, and that slap dash approach just kept forcing me out of the novels. The turgid prose, and constant discussions on arranged marriage and political machinations did it better though. In the first 700 page book, they treat two major battles with less than a chapter a piece. The main characters daily chores to her master, take up nearly 10 times as much page space. In other words, the books are boring.

In the past, the one series that I've abandoned that seems to irk the most Fantasy fans, is George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. I likely could have abandoned dozen's of other series, even the Ur-Fantasy The Lord of the Rings, and escaped without so much as the batting of an eyelash. Not Martin however. I've apparently become a heretic because of my refusal to acknowledge his supposed greatness. I tried though. I read the first one, shortly following the release of the fourth volume. Numerous people convinced me I needed to read this series desperately. I hesitated, I avoid long series that aren't finished. Thats the result of the interminable waiting for the later Wheel of Time volumes. I foolishly bought all four hardcovers for nearly full cover price, sight un seen. I nearly quit reading the first book, following Bran getting pushed out the window.

You see, had the series been a typical Fantasy series. Bran would have been the main character. The entire series would have followed him. He would have been the Frodo or Rand Al' Thor or Richard Rahl or Paul Atredies of the song of ice and fire. Martin chose not to do that. It made me angry. But with a lot of encouragement I stuck to it. By the time I finished the volume, I realized I should have gone with my gut and quit it hundreds of pages earlier. I vowed not to read any more of the series until I knew the ending. Any author who kills his main character (Surely, if not Bran then Ned must be?!) cannot be trusted.

Thats what I typically want from an author. I don't want challenge. I want sameness. I want to be able to read each and every volume knowing the main character will survive largely unscathed. Life is uncertain, and certainty is a fantasy only enjoyed by the wealthy. I can catch glimpses of it in novels, or so I had become accustomed to through a long diet of what would typically be termed "Mediocre" fantasy.

This decision tends to be met with dismissal, pleading, anger, or confusion. They just cannot understand why I wouldn't want to read such fantastic books. Maybe they are. I'll likely never find out. Since its highly unlikely that Martin will be able to end his series on a note with which I don't object.

A Specific and recent example follows:
Anonymous said...

Rex, I believe I speak for the many fans of the book, when I say that you made a really, truly, tragic, and stupid decision. I really urge you to pick the book back up- the whole series is excellent.

To which I responded:
I already feel as if I wasted my time on the first book. What's tragic would be wasting more time getting invested in more characters that I already know Martin kills off. What was stupid, was buying into the hype and wasting 120$ buying all four hardcovers, new, because people just kept on about them.

Another Quote I just came across, From Black Gate
Martin invites us again and again to withhold trust from the things we’re told, but again and again reveals to us how much we’ve accepted without realising it. It’s a nice trick; and it surprises me that he’s consistently able to pull it off without alienating his readership. I think the secret is that he plays fair with the readers. He puts his clues out there in the descriptions he gives; he shows us, by revealing a few minor mysteries, how his riddles are constructed. And if, given that, you’re still surprised by what happens — it’s hardly his fault, is it? Words are wind.

It's most assuredly his fault. He's the author. Any problems the reader has with his work, ultimately are the fault of him who built it. Just as surely as a defective car tire is the fault of the manufacturer. I don't enjoy being toyed with. I was alienated.

Don't lose heart however, Martin is in good company. I made up my mind to jettison the Dune series when Paul walked into the desert. Beyond finishing the second half of the book, being made up of Children of Dune, I have yet to venture back to Arakkis. Martin already has my money, so what does it matter if I don't venture back to Westeros?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

for all 6 of you who still mail letters.

The USPS is going to be issuing this Edgar Rice Burroughs stamp next year, featuring Tarzan.

It's a pretty attractive stamp, but I'd have liked them to have done a number of different characters. With John Carter soon to be released it might have increased sales.

Though Ultimately what I would love to have is a set of "American Pulp Icons".. I'd love to get a stamp of ol' Two Gun with a pouncing Conan super imposed in front of him.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The great Cimmerian Egg Race.

At first I was like:

But then I was like:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Borders, All remaining stores to close.

According to Yahoo Finance, All remaining Borders stores to begin closing, some as soon as Friday.

I have to say that this saddens me. I do try and buy books from both Brick & Mortar stores, as well as Local Stores. I don't read E-Books, I rarely check books out of the library. The only reason I turn to Amazon is purchase stuff that is out of print, or CD's/Movie's since nearly every dedicated store to them is gone, many before Amazon ever got as ubiquitous as it has become.

I enjoy book stores. I like the dingy second hand ones equally to the well let mega store. I don't enjoy book stores that don't seem to ever update their stock. Something I feel Borders, more than Barnes & Noble is guilty of. Borders tried repeatedly to diversify their stores. Adding in Toy Sections and Stationary. Gift Wrap Stations. All this did was subtract space from what they are. A Book shop. It's the same thing Books-A-Million did in the late 90's.

I remember when my local Borders first opened. It's not really "local" to me in the proper sense of the word.. in the Geographic sense of scale it is. I can get to two borders stores in less than 45 minutes travel, 4 in less than an hour. I can't walk to them, but I'm luckier than many. It was the place to hang out for us nerds and geeks in school. Walden Books in the mall was too tiny. Books-A-Million didn't have a cafe. There was no Barnes&Nobel. It was at least a bi-weekly ritual.

I appreciate the willingness of the big box bookstores to allow people do loiter. Sometimes for the entire business day, without ever requiring you to buy anything. Sure, Libraries will do this.. but you can't have a conversation in a library. Its against the rules. I can't tell you how many times I've conversed with people in book stores. The English Second Language Teacher on vacation from Taiwan, looking for a good long read for the plane ride back. Helping out the countless numbers of people who have mechanically been steered towards Robert Jordan or Terry Goodkind by the hapless store employees.

Speaking of, Borders has nearly 11,000 employees. They will soon be added to the nations seemingly intractable unemployment problem. So really its them I feel the worst for. As some one who will soon be out of a job, I sympathize entirely. 6-7 years ago when I worked full time I spent hundreds of dollars a year on new books. As my finances have deteriorated I've bought more and more books second hand. It's like ripples on a pond. I wasn't the pebble, but I got caught up in its wake and thus played my unwilling part in adding to the violence of the distortion.

Caress of Steel.

I know this song came out a bit before the novel.. but every time I listen to them I wonder if Terry brooks had this album. Though it's probably also a bias on my part.. After all I some what consider RUSH's (a band I like btw)early albums to be pastiches of Led Zeppelin. So it makes them thematically similar to Brooks being a Tolkien Pastiche.

None of this is to say that some how the Band is at fault for the Sword of Shannara existing.. but I can't help but connect the three men of Willowdale to Shea, Flick, Menion Leah and Shady Vale.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


"Just once, I'd like to have encountered real literature."
"Is it literature?"
"I Think So."
"So whats literature?"
"Literature is where you read a book and feel you could put a little mark under every line because it's true."
"Because it's true? I don't get it."
"When every sentence is simply right. When it reveals something about the world. And Life. When every phrase gives you the feeling that you would have behaved or thought exactly the same way the character in the book does. That's when its Literature."

Crazy - Benjamin Lebert

Personally I find that to be a pretty good description. It casts no aspersions to genre or type or setting. It simply makes a statement. It's a statement I can agree with. It goes a long way to explaining why, for the most part, I don't read a lot of books that would be considered "Literary". If I can't identify with the protagonists.. The book doesn't touch me. It's the same reason I have difficulties with books that feature Anti-Heros or even Villains as their protagonists. If you make the character too murky, too ill feeling.. I can't identify with them. I can't feel for them or care what happens to them. I lose interest.

I've read through a lot of abysmally bad books because I like the characters. I've given up on a lot of really good books because I don't like the characters. Benjamin Lebert's 'Crazy' was both a good book and had good characters. It was a short novel, barely 200 pages, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. This section though was what really stuck out in my mind. Two teenage boys sitting on a train discussing Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea. I knew it was exactly how I would have behaved, exactly how I would have thought. Enough so that, while I didn't deface my book by underlining the words.. I copied them here to share.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter, Movie Watch 2011. part 2

well that was.. Something.

Early on Thursday morning I woke up. Something about #5 just kept bugging me. Gnawing at my subconscious as I slept. I walked over to the book case and extricated the offending volume. I checked the page count. just shy of 900 pages. A truly huge tome. By far the biggest in the series. Eclipsing the first, by over 600 pages. With this knowledge I knew I was right in my ill feelings. I picked up the DVD cases and had it full confirmed. Harry potter and the Sorcerer's Stone has a run time of 142 minutes. For a 300 page book. Harry potter and the Order of the Phoenix has a run time of 139 minutes.. for a 900 page book. This is ridiculous in the extreme, Deathly Hallows is 200 pages shorter than Order of the Phoenix yet it got a 5 hour long film in two parts. To make matters worse, They kept nearly all the annoying and bothersome bits of #5. They left out stuff that would haunt #'s 6 and 7 and require backtracking, or simply hoping no one asked about those Yucatan sized plot holes left by their excision. One can only hope that there will be an eventual extended cut which will include a number of these very important elements.

Starting about 11am I watched Harry potter and the Halfblood Prince. What an improvement this was. It was just as complex as the the book, finally began tying up loose ends and making reference to objects found back as far as Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets. Most importantly, it moved the story forward. It was an all around good film, except it has no ability to stand alone, something that the preceding 5 did have in some regard. It's too complicated to really summarize, or would spoil to much of the payoff for you watching the previous 13 hours of movies.

Skipping ahead to about 6pm. I left the house to get supper, then headed over to the theatre. I had tickets to see both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows back to back starting at 9pm. 6 hours of potter mania where waiting for me a scant 16 miles down the road. I was not unimpressed.

Many people turned out in costume. Something I've not seen since The Return of the King came out. The demographics of the theatre were the most surprising. 6 out of 10 potterheads present were female. Had I known that, I probably wouldn't have put off reading/watching them so long. C'est la vie.

Movie #7.1 and .2 deftly continued the trend started with #6. Really the three movies could constitute a narrative build similar to a micro trilogy to cap off a series of standalone films. They did suffer slightly from the material left out of #5. Even to me, only an extremely casual reader of the series was able to point out a number of instances. Most of them revolved around the other orphaned boy residing at Hogwarts, Nevil Longbottom. The other thing the films did was try and soften the edges of Albus Dumbledore. To make him less of a Machiavellian schemer than he was in the last books.

The theatre cried over an animated elf, Cheered when Tim Burton's main squeeze bit the dust courtesy of Mrs. Weasley and booed audibly whenever Ralph Fiennes was on screen. The special effects were good enough to have me empathize with a particularly wretched dragon forced to work security in the depths of the goblin bank Gringotts. My dislike of David Thewlis, which stemmed from his character in Dragonheart, has been forgotten. But I'll say that even at a 5 hour run time, many many characters simply got fly-bys or were in group shots. I really can't say anymore than that without potentially spoiling the end. However I will say, I did find myself desperately wishing for Conan to run in from off screen and kill Nagini the giant snake.. after it having escaped death for the 4th or 5th time.

It was a good night. Consider me a Convert. But I'm glad I'm a convert on my own terms. Rather than having jumped on the bandwagon earlier, I chose to ignore it and let it pass me by. Only going to its last performance, slipping out before the final curtain call.


I forgot to add something else. It struck me as humorous that Ralph Feinnes plays Voldemort, while his brother Joseph portrays Merlin in the Starz show Camelot.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Harry Potter, Movie Watch 2011. part 1

In the last few days I've watched films 1-5 for the first time. Just as I earlier this year read the book series for the first time.

When I read the books back in the spring, I mostly enjoyed the earlier books in the series. I found them to be relatively light pseudo fantasy fare in the vein of Roald Dhal's whole body of work. They really do remind me of James and the Giant Peach and Big Friendly Giant and all those sorts of things.. Having Flying Cars reminded me a lot of Ian Flemming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. They are frightening, slightly demented.. but none of the villains approach the level of evil that the Child Snatcher or The Witches possess.

But starting with Book #4, this began to change. Almost from the very beginning when the death eaters attack the Quidditch World Cup. This is telling the reader/viewer that, the world is changing. Grab a helmet.

My feelings are that for the most part, I enjoy the films more than the books. Up to a point. That point is book/film #5. The Order of the Phoenix was by no means my least favorite of the series. That would be giving it too much credit. No I abjectly Hate, Order of the Phoenix. The book/films entire purpose is about the attempts of some individuals to reset the status quo. to put the genie that is Voldemort back into his bottle.

It forces characters to conform into molds they wouldn't conform too in any real life setting I've ever encountered. The character who really shines in the film is probably Alan Rickman's Snape. Who for the first time is really given a big part and we get a glimpse into his childhood and why he hates James Potter so much. On the other hand, the wonderful Gary Oldman is yet again wasted entirely in the 5th film. Having shown up in #3, and disappeared entirely during #4... it was nice having him back. But they just didn't do enough with the Black Residence or Kreacher or Sirius.. or frankly any of the Order of the Phoenix members. Choosing to almost entirely focus on the school.

It comes across in both places as excruciatingly stupid. It makes the characters themselves buffoons for drinking that koolaid. It denies us any knockdown dragout wizard magic fights for nearly 500 pages, or just about 2.5 hours. Along with that it at best plays down, and at worst outright ignores the momentous impact of what happened at the end of the last book/film. There is a distinct lack of feeling that, Though the world is different now. It's best if you keep calm and carry on. It's a seachange in the cultural undercurrent.

It didn't help that I really hate seeing Seigfried Farnon (Robert Hardy, who is an Expert at the Longbow in real life, having written two books about Agincourt and the Long Bow.. which makes him pretty bad ass in my book)as the worthless Cornelius Fudge either, or that I hate Helena Bonham Carter in just about anything she is in. It makes it difficult for me to even pay attention.

Tonight I'm going to watch #6, and tomorrow I'll be watching #7 & 8 in theatres.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sounds of Melnibone.

Blue Oyster Cult - Black Blade

Hawkwind - Elric: The Enchanter

Jethro Tull - Broadsword

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

In which I attempt to explain String Theory to the drunks at Waffle House.

Having been some what miffed earlier in the day by the shockingly poor judgement of 12 of my countrymen.. I decided that I'd take a nap. That left me waking up rather late in the evening, and since I didn't feel like cooking I decided to go out to eat. Problem is, in this part of the world.. when one wants to eat after about 9pm, there is only one place to go. Waffle House.

I'm not proud of my choice of dining establishment. They generally serve overly greasy food that is best consumed after you have had one two many. At least that seems to be the popular conception. This one happens to be near a major truck stop as well, so you get a lot of drunk truck drivers coming in after sitting in their sleepers polishing off a 6-pack. Sometimes this results in fights in the parking lot.. and police involvement.. it can be highly entertaining. Most of the time though it just results in a lot of really odd conversation.

I've never had the kind of Bill Hicks experience when at a Waffle House.. but I've had plenty of run-ins with drunks. Tonight was one of those nights. As I'm, sitting there it begins to rain. Well I've finished my food and really am desperate to get out of the restaurant before any of the drunks start talking to me. But it's coming down pretty hard. The waitress comes over, and asks if there is anything she can get me.. I said no, only if you can stop the rain. She followed up with a questioning look and said something like "I'll think really hard on it".

What followed was one drunk shouting "Yeah just need to get the right vibes goin!" another shouted out "Like String Theory!" This lead to a screeching halt.. I swear some one dropped a plate and a record skipped. "Whats that?" the first drunk said.. "I don't know, I just heard it on TV" said the second.. then they both turned to me.. I have no idea why, perhaps, tying back in with the bill hicks reference, because I was reading a book.. and asked me did I know what string theory was.

Well my grasp of quantum physics and deep math is how shall I say.. scanty at best.. but I dug down into the darkest reaches of my brain trying to remember everything I'd ever heard in any Micho Kaku documentaries I'd seen.. I proceeded to ramble on about quantum entanglements and wormholes and quarks and neutrinos and all sorts of groovy stuff. I did it in a good Arlo Guthrie voice too. Eventually, whether they had heard enough or simply felt they now understood what string theory was.. they both sort of wandered outside to smoke a cigarette.

Thing is, I have no idea what I was talking about.. but they have no idea I had no idea what I was talking about. It's mutually assured ignorance when it comes to this sort of thing.

All I can take away from it is.. thank goodness I'm not drunk at the waffle house, asking stupid questions to complete strangers. I'm also forever indebted to those two drunks for giving me something to write about that I at least, find highly amusing.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Who needs Nihilistic Fantasy

When you have the Florida Judicial system backed up by the idiotic jurors of America.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Throwing in the towel.

With today's completion of "The Far Side of the World" I've decided to cease reading the Aubrey & Maturin books by Patrick O'Brian. It's not that they are badly written, or that the characters annoy me. It's simply that, apart from their sporadic humour.. the books are extremely boring.

I've seen them described as Emily Dickinson with Boats.. I can't really comment on that as I've never read( and am extremely unlikely to read) Emily Dickinson. But they do seem to spend an awful lot of time on inane trivialities. Sometimes that works out well, it provides opportunity for cunning word play that often feeds into the humourus bent the novels have. When that hits, you get grand episodes such as a drunken three-toed sloth, or the Captain's hat being eaten by a pack of Wombats.. or who can forget the disgruntled honeybees which were smuggled on board. But as the series went on, these episodes became less and less common. Mainly being replaced by more and more nattering.

I enjoyed the first 8 books quite a lot. 9 and 10 however where different animals. The author himself admits that he's begun to have to play loose with time in order to keep writing adventures for his characters. Maybe thats why I didn't like it? I don't think its that its set during the war of 1812, and thus the Americans tend to be the foils for the heroic royal navy. Several earlier ones had Americans involved and they didn't turn me off the way that 9 and 10 did. Something about the tone of the books just changed with the move to the double digits.

I'll admit also that O'Brian's characters live and let live attitude to all manner of immorality has grown especially irksome. I'd rather they cast judgements I don't agree with, than simply abstain. It's a very modern way of looking at the world these characters in habit. It's one thing for certain things that I find objectionable to be considered no big deal in the 1700's.. but the characters simply refrain from coming out against anything. Well, except the French and Women on ships anyway...

The chances of me picking up #11 are not that great, but who's to say it won't happen. For the moment though I'm left with 10 unread books that I've got very little interest in reading. But at the same time, because I've not read them, and they are expensive.. I don't really want to trade them in.

I'm still left scratching my head as to why Penguin thought they needed to liken Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series to O'Brien. The two authors really couldn't be more dissimilar. The frivolities engaged in by Aubrey and Maturin and especially by those higher ranked than they are astounding. Things that quite simply only the villains of the Sharpe's books engage in. This is not to say that Aubrey is not an upstanding guy.. but I'd not turn my back on Maturin for a million Dollars. He's a stone cold killer who has immensely conflicting and complicated loyalties.

The closest equivalent to him in Cornwell's work would be Major Ducot.. the French intelligence officer. I'd very much like to see the two of these characters meet on a small stone table on a hillside. Two wine cups, and a bottle sitting on the table. Iocain powder in one, neither or perhaps both cups. Of course to really make the movie work.. you'd need Ingmar Bergman to direct it. It would probably sweep the Oscars. Oh, and both parts would be played by the same actor.. since the two characters seem to be the spitting image of each other.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Clarkesworld: Epically discussing, Epic Fantasy.

Found this really interesting article thanks to Sci-Fi Signal.

One of the writers from Clarkesworld has collected and collated interviews from some of the Fantasy Genres biggest, as well as from many mid-list and up and coming authors. It's only part one, but seems to be making fairly good progress in an attempt to adequately define the sub genre, epic fantasy, at least in broad terms. How exactly it differentiates from Sword and Sorcery, seems to be boil down to Scope. It also helps me to understand why some of the Conan Pastiches just don't feel like Conan stories (Despite them frequently being barely literate constructions).. is that they are infusing Epic Fantasy sensibilities into the Sword and Sorcery Hyborian world.

The Interviews also are nice in a way because several of these authors, far more effectively encapsulate a very close proximity of my feelings. They also do it in a much more concise and well worded way.

My esteem for Peter O'Rullian continues to increase with every interview I've read.. though I've yet to actually read his book.

Peter O'Rullian:For me, some things must exist for a fantasy novel to feel epic. And at least some of them would apply to epic storytelling in any genre. I think first of the stakes in the novel, which ties closely to the scale of the story. If my stakes are missing my morning cartoons because I've got to weed the garden, it ain't epic. Failure of my character to answer the story question has to have consequences that impact others besides the character himself. Could be, too, that my character fails. But there has to be risk on a broad scale. Yes, it's compelling to read about the risk of a single life, but for me that's a different genre of fantasy.

Peter O'Rullian: And related to the notion of stakes/scale, there needs to be an adversary. It needn't be the devil. But it's got to be more than a robber. I'm glad to have the motivations of this antagonist explained; I'm even glad to be made to sympathize (after a fashion) with the "bad guy." But at some point in epic storytelling there needs to be real conflict (which then plays against this idea of high stakes), and if there's no clear hero, however flawed, then I'm not invested in the outcome. Maudlin as it may sound, I want triumph of some resonant kind. I want to be thrilled. If I don't care who wins, what's the point?

Bolded to emphasize the part I'm specifically agreeing with. I hate to beat a dead horse, but he just summed up exactly what my problem is with a lot of modern fantasy novels I've tried to read over the last 3 years or so. Ranging from Abercrombie to Martin, even old standbys such as Moorcock. I frequently find their "heros" to be just as odious as their "Villains" if you can even define their characters in those terms. The base, 6th grade writing class "Antagonist" and "Protagonist" monikers seem to fit more simply because they don't carry any emotional baggage with them like the terms Hero and Villain do.

This article ties into another book I'm reading right now, "Lies my Teacher Told me", which features the basic thesis that American History textbooks remove the foibles and flaws of important historical personae in order to purify them into Heroes. This is done in order to give people ideals to live up too, But all it does is remake real people into unattainable paragons. They never fail, therefore we cannot help but fail in our quest to be more like them. I think thats a perfectly valid flaw in a lot of Epic Fantasies, But doesn't excuse the sudden and violent pendulum swing in the other direction. In reality, we should simply be going for more balanced characters, even though by pure emotional need some should balance slight more towards one or the other pole. They need not be violently magnetized to one or the other unless the story needs them to be. Nor do they have to fall for every weakness they possess. Galadrial didn't take the ring, even when it was offered to her. It helped her character in the context of the Lord of the Rings, but does it atone for her actions during the first age?

Boromir succumbed to the temptation of the ring, but after its influence was gone gave his life to protect those who couldn't protect themselves. Just because you have flaws dosen't mean you are irredeemable. It's the resistance to redemption, or rather resistance to realizing you have flaws, that is the root of the trouble.

As a specific example from the first chapter of "lies", it discusses Woodrow Wilsons heinous personal beliefs. Beliefs he never recanted. But that dosen't change the fact that he also passed a lot of important legislature which helped the United States become the great power it is today. But if he were a Fantasy character, I feel Martin would be better suited to write him than Brooks.

Further great quotations come from the likes of Ed Greenwood, summed up here.

Ed Greenwood: At the core of all good fiction, Epic Fantasy and otherwise, are the moral choices made by characters—characters the writer makes the reader care about. For good or bad, smart or foolish, these choices (Uriens in the movie Excalibur: "I saw what I saw. The boy drew the sword.") define the characters. They stand up for what they believe is right, or sacrifice themselves knowingly, or do "what needs to be done," and inspire readers. Scenes of heroic choices lift the hearts of readers, make them feel that there is good in the world, let them revel in moments of magnificence ("The boy stood up to the dragon! I saw it! I was there!"), and feel better for having done so.

No one wants to read a story of unrelieved gloom, wherein sordid characters the reader loathes or despises do nasty things to each other, there is no order nor moments of kindness or good triumphing in any way, and good doesn't win in the end. The happy, just ending is a cliché because it works, because readers want it and wait for it and feel somehow cheated if they don't get it (and very cheated if there's no glimmer of good or "rightness" at story-end, at all).

Elizabeth Bear: Beowulf and the dragon destroy each other: fantasy tells us he was right to have fought. I need stories that tell me it is right to keep fighting, when despair and capitulation are so easy.

I think current publishing trends some what disagree with Mr. Greenwood on what exactly readers want. It's clear from the sales push behind certain authors that the idea of unrelieved gloom and sordid characters doing nasty things to each other is popular. The question is why has it become so, now? As I said, its a truly fascinating article and I am very much looking forward to reading the next parts of it.