Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Steerpike Parkway, or Evolution in Fantasy.

I'm probably way off the mark here.. but I've been kicking around an idea of what came before what to create what in the Fantasy genre.

And since we were specifically talking so much about "Gritty" fantasy with its anti-heroes or outright villainous protagonists I wondered where exactly it came from.

And though I'm not 100% certain, I think the first example of Villainous Protagonist in a fantasy novel I can think of is probably Steerpike, in Mervyn peake's Gormenghast Novel. I know many have argued that the castle itself is the main character.. and I don't doubt that.. but Steerpike is the main POV character for the first novel, and revels in his destruction in the second novel as he plots on how to continue it.

I suppose you could go back further, and try to lay the claim at the feet of any of the Nordic Outlaw tales.. But simply put.. most of those guys despite being outlaws still wind up doing something Heroic. Egil Skallagrimson winds up doing heroic things on multiple occasions even.. Those are more along the lines of the traditional view of the "Anti-Hero" But Steerpike... never does anything unless it helps Steerpike, will kill anyone who gets in his way or once their usefulness is ended to him. Theres a lot of Steerpike in the works of K.J.Parker..

It seems odd though to blame it on Mervyn Peake. The stories themselves aren't to blame, and neither is the author.. since after all.. the second book in the series climaxes and ends roughly as a typical Fantasy novel would. Since thats the case it proves then that a great many people don't really pay attention.. Steerpike is the on again off again main POV but he's not the main character of the story.. Titus is, Titus is the hero of the story. And Steerpikes murdering and larcenous behaviors simply led to Titus becoming that hero and dispatching Steerpike the villain. But it's easy to see how people, especially if they didn't really like the first novel in the series.. might get the idea that Steerpike is the one they should care about.. rather than seeing him as what he is.. the snarling beast outside of the circled wagons looking for a way in. They instead seek to try and out do him for his behavior and see how much further their own character can go.

I think that, Peake's Steerpike, rather than Donaldson's Thomas Covenant, who though clearly an asshole who rapes a woman.. then regrets it and wallows in self pity.. that dosen't sound much like the characters in these modern books.. But Steerpike knows no shame and it is he who is the seed which germinated into what we now see as 'Gritty' fantasy.

And while Joe Abercrombie has been the center of a lot of the maelstrom surrounding these discussions lately.. I'm going to state that though he plays with some of these ideas.. I think his work is simply a more traditional fantasy series.. albeit one which he is trying to deconstruct.. it's up to the reader to decide how well he did with that task. However, that said, I feel that Peake, is an enormous influence on K.J.Parker.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gee, I never knew that about myself.

That I apparently hate everything new and only really love reading Dragonlance novels.
I'm so glad someone posting under the inventive handle of "Anonymous" could explain that apparent failure on my part.. here I was thinking I'd only read 3 Dragon lance novels ever.. when Apparently I read "Empire state building sized stacks" of them..

Ahh well, the world is full of idiots, with the Internet being the triple distilled tipple of the world.. I suppose I was fated to run across one sooner than later.

I'm gonna go burn another stack of books from Abercrombie and Sykes and Morgan, Tain't good for naught 'cept the hearth. Certainly ain't worth the readin'.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Villanous perspective.


They are the bad guys.. why should I care what their motivations are? They are the bad guys. I don't need to know Palpatine's motivation.. he's the villain. Learning what turned Vader to the dark side nearly ruined him as a character. I don't care what Toth-Amon's motivation is, or Sauron's. They are all villains, presented to me as such by authorial intent and I'm content not to need anything else. They are a foil to either make the morally shady character seem less so, or to provide stark contrast to the legitimately heroic characters who seek to do away with them.

I could understand it if your villain wasn't really a villain so much as just a protagonist who was against the heros. Along this line would be the likes of Cobra Commander, Megatron or say for instance Napoleon Boneparte. They aren't exactly villains even though they fulfill the same role in fiction. They are characters who fulfill the Antagonist role, though they aren't exactly evil. This is what saved Vader from being totally destroyed as a character.. he simply was able to swap from being a Villain to an antagonist.. had they not have had the Emperor to show what an actual villain looked like.. it wouldn't have worked.

I won't say this often, but Terry Goodkind actually has a remarkably apt quotation from his first book Wizard's First Rule, in which the Wizard Zedd explains that most evil people don't do things because they think they are evil, but because they think they are the in the right.. it's only everyone else that thinks they are evil. He could have taken his place among the top fantasy writers if he had been cognizant of the fact that he effectively subverted the trope of farmboy saves the world.. by writing a series where the farm boy becomes an even worse dark lord than the one he destroyed, butchers people who don't agree with him, slaughters enemy soldiers, who though are an obviously oppressed people seem far less evil than his own.. It could have been a great variation on the standard theme, and had that have been authorial intent from the get go.. to establish how a dark lord actually becomes a dark lord.. it would have been great..

The Point I'm trying to make is, some times the bad guys do actually wear black hats. They are really irredeemable, they are really bad, and if thats all they are, a nebulous black hat, or a floating fiery Eyeball.. Anything else is just grasping at straws. If the author wants you to know the villains M.O. he/she will include it in the written work.. otherwise content yourself with what you have and move on. Certainly there is no need for fan fiction to fill in the gaps for you.. if you are so desperate to know.. then I suggest you really didn't understand the author's work to begin with, and certainly aren't respectful of it.

Why is this a difficult concept for people to accept? That there just maybe are in fact legitimately evil people in the world. Personally I don't care what Bin Laden's motivation is, even listening to it is some how lending it validity. Bending an ear to your enemies grievances is tantamount to an admission of culpability, complicity or worse guilt for their wrongdoings.

Even though it was really that Rabid Racoon's fault.. Sometimes, there does comes a time to recognize that little Travis just has to put Ol' Yeller down.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

M****e, Or, the M-Word.

So.. I finally got goaded into giving J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series another go. I last read the first book, Sorcerer's Stone aka Philosopher's stone when I was in 8th grade.. Needless to say I was too old for it at the time and I was also being forced to read it by a teacher who bought into the media hype about it being the bestest book that was ever written.. I didn't like it and pretty studiously avoided anything connected to it from then on..

I've never even seen one of the films. That's going to change in July.. I plan to watch all 8 of them. I'll probably be doing a series of reviews of them.. since I feel I do have a rather unique perspective on them.. much like some one having never seen Star Wars.. I first started toying with the idea because of the obvious influence the books had on the last three of Stephen King's Dark Tower series which I read last year. He made a lot of references too them, and they clearly meant a lot too him.. well I wasn't particularly impressed with the ending of the Dark Tower but thought I'd take his recommendation and give Rowling another try.

My opinion has clearly changed, in the last 10 years or so I've moved away from the phase of thinking that just because something is popular than I clearly have to hate it.. well.. mostly.. I still dislike Twilight, and Justin Beiber, but thats more because he's an annoying little pratt who is worth 200 million dollars at age 15.. that's enough to piss off even the most even keeled person.

I've so fared enjoyed the first three volumes in the series.. the characters are mostly charming.. and apart from a few oddities in the books due to obvious Americanizations.. they are good fun in the vein of Ronald Dahl. I'd still not put Rowling in the same running as Tolkien or Lewis.. but I'd happily include her stories along with Flemming's Chitty Chitty bang bang and the bulk of Dahl's work.

The descriptions of food and cheer and general camaraderie are heart warming, the books nearly feel like a comfortable sweater, but unlike the Hobbit or Wind in the Willows.. it's more of a mass produced sweater rather than one your grandmother knitted for you.

But. And this is a big But. I have to call foul on the word "Muggle". It's an invented word, yes, but it fulfills the same job as a certain strain of words. Those words are typically called Derogatory, or sometimes, Racial Slurs. I'm not sure which Muggle would be.. but I'm leaning towards it being a racial slur since clearly, wizardry is genetic. It crops up in families which are not attuned to it normally.

Whats worse, is it is one which the adult's encourage the kids to use. It's the sort of thing that if it was in real life used to name a group, the ACLU would crawl them for it. Sensitivity classes would be attended, and radio announcers and comedians would lose their jobs. Can you imagine if they substituted it with any number of racially insensitive words?

Now, the wizard's don't demand the muggles wear yellow stars, but they certainly don't attend the same school. Separate but equal I suppose is ok when its Wizard's. I wonder if they would have a "muggles only" lunch counter? Or a muggles only swimming pool? The Anti-Muggle laws are very reminiscent of Jim Crow... Though as far as I can tell there have not been any Muggle Lynchings.. but the wizard's don't seem to think anything of involuntarily wiping their memories if it suits their goals.. It's maybe more similar to Apartheid, with the Minority actively persecuting the majority for having no magical aptitude.. How is it that this has never, to my knowledge, been remarked upon?

maybe I'm over thinking things a bit.. but just something about the laissez-faire usage of the word just irks me... I hope they've toned it down a bit in the films.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ee's at it again, Mum.


Well Mr. Grin has once more waded into the fray but this time with, to my mind, a much stronger essay. Gone is the bulk of the political teeth gnashing, gone is the name calling.. It's a far more civil piece. I do have a few problems with it of course.. first would be Mr. Grin's refusal to use the word 'Apologist' since nothing C.S. Lewis or anyone else Vindicates Christianity, but he does Apologize for it, rather well in fact. The only thing that will vindicate Christianity is the return of Christ himself to earth. Only with that will it be Vindicated and proven true.. nothing else, everything else is just personal faith.

I also feel it is is still some what disingenuous to lay the blame solely at the crop of current authors feet. As has been brought up before, Stephen R. Donaldson created one of the more obnoxiously vile characters, Thomas the unbeliever, Peake too created Steerpike.. a character who is so rage inducing in me that I would like to reach through the page and strangle him myself. These two authors of course wrote long before Martin and Abercrombie..

I think that another thing to be considered is, how many Television shows, highly rated, glamorize and romanticize disgusting human beings.. Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, The Sopranoes. None of these shows has very many screaming characters or qualities, and if they do a long string of mishaps tend to occur to them in which to put them in their place. The only non corrupt cop on Sons of Anarchy was recently Shot in the head and then run over, but only after finally selling his integrity down the river for political favors. The sneer directed at the audience from the writers very nearly dripped venom. Mad Men is an entire show of adulterers who's sole reason for existing is to try and make you part with your money.. they are only slightly better than lawyers, who are frequently lambasted themselves on nearly every Legal procedural on TV. I can't count how many episodes of Law & Order or CSI I've watched where the valiant efforts of the police or crime labs have been thrown out due to the finalizing of some smarmy lawyer. The Only fitting end for Tony Soprano would have been the whole family getting picked up under the RICO act and being carted off to jail, since, lest we forget they were Criminals with little or no redeeming value for society. It will be the same for Sons of Anarchy, but judging by the writers other programs such as the Shield.. I doubt that will be the case.

I think then what I'm saying is that the scope of Mr. Grim's essay is too narrow. Why limit it to only the Fantasy Genre and not simply indict the entirety of Fiction writing at current? I saw some one make reference to Mr. Grin not having thought much of no Country for Old men. I didn't much care for it either.. I kept waiting for Tommy lee Jones to put a bullet in Javier Bardem's head and put an end to his reign of horror. But no such closure was given, and in my opinion the movie wound up being a waste of my time because of it. It's not often that I watch a movie only to feel I wasted part of my life that can't be returned.. but that was one of them.

I cannot help but agree with the bulk of Mr. Grin's essay, and am looking forward to part two, especially if he can mind his manners and turn in another one such as this.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I knew this was going to happen.

Over the last several weeks an interesting strain of conversation has been building around the blogosphere, Al Harron, Brian Murphy, Michal Wojcik, among many others, it's grown a bit, and spread, and now Leo Grin, formerly of the Cimmerian waded into the fray. The problem is of course I have with this, isn't his ideas about Fantasy literature.. The Problem is that his posting on a Political forum, and liking Robert E. Howard and Tolkien, has lead to stuff like...

"By the way, I get a very similar nihilistic feeling from both Howard and Abercrombie, and that may be a big reason why I don't particularly like either. Also, Howard is openly racist to a degree that's just shocking. Maybe that goes unnoticed in Right Wing American circles, but I find it risible. On the other hand, even though Abercrombie is a modern author, his portrayal of female characters is just awful, to the point of it feeling misogynist. (I could go on, but I don't want to derail the thread too much.) Both authors have plenty of testosterone, though, if that's your thing."

This was followed later by:

"Anyway, why switch to Abercrombie to make a point about misogyny? You were already talking about Robert Howard! "

There are internet forums all over full of this kind of stuff now. Whats worse, genuine loon John C. Wright has written an even more venomous blog post 'In solidarity" with Leo.

I hate to say it, as I am loth to tell some one to curtail their opinions.. but in Robert E. Howard fandom there is a distinct right-wing vein. I dislike that one of the only people who ever seems to talk about Howard in the media is John J. Miller. I say this not as some "College Educated liberal" since I would in no way fit that mold if you were to ever get me to talk politics. But that's just it.. I don't talk politics to the same people I talk about Robert E. Howard.. I compartmentalize.

If I'm trying to sell them Robert E. Howard the Product, which encapsulates the Man and his Writings. It's a hell of a lot harder to do if they are already disinclined to pay any attention because you just got doing telling them some one they dislike is the best president we ever had. Or worse, beyond them simply not likeing Robert E. Howard becuase they don't like you... they conflate Robert E. Howard's views with YOUR views and then spread those ideas. All the fantastic work that the Shield Warriors and Maidens who work tirelessly to improve REH's literary reputation.. it all can come to naught because of something like this.

Those Comments by the way, were on THE big forum for discussing George R.R. Martin's soon to be on HBO and seen by millions Fantasy series. a Forum thats easily got 4 times as many members as Those Comments aren't one-offs either. Those seem to be simply among the most vitriolically stated examples. Being that they are on a Forum with a large reader base, and one centered on a popular and soon to be extremely popular franchise.. They can do a lot more damage than can be quickly undone.

for full disclosure, it's not merely right-wing politics which I dislike.. I ceased posting at and nearly lost interest in Martin's work because of the obnoxious left wing bias that is rife on that forum. where name calling of others who they disagree with is standard. It made their forum look bad and by association made Martin look bad...

I hate to say this sort of thing... but I knew this was going to happen.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I was attacked by Gremlins.

yup, cause of all kinds of electrical and mechanical failure, the gremlin. They attacked my PC today and so, alas, I probably won't be able to post a whole lot. Not quite sure what the problem is, but since last night it wasn't able to connect to the internet I imagine it is a bum motherboard.

anyway, if I think of anything spectacularly interesting to tell you about I can always hop on my netbook and share it...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Like a merry go-round.

I dislike immensely having to skip the first parts of a book, Especially having to skip the first 200 pages. But I've done just this with the second volume of Peter V. Brett's Demon Trilogy. And I'm sure I will wind up skipping more before I finish the book. It's a shame, really. Though this may be a rush to judgment, I should be well known for those by now.

This may also seem odd considering my previous post heaping praise upon him, however, Mr. Brett is mistaken if he thinks I paid money to read about the Krasians. I enjoyed the first volume in this series because of Arlen, Rojer and Leesha, as such I expect them to continue to be the main focus. I don't care to read about Murderers and Rapists and Butchers, who use their theft of knowledge to conquer innocent people, and so having the Krasians be the main focus for such a long stretch bored me. Their is only so much one can read before one comes to view the Demons with a new lens, they are after all only animals, and cannot be blamed for their actions. The Krasians however can. I disliked them already based on their actions in the first book, and I'd much rather see them put to the sword than the Demons at this point.

Its a considerable step down from the Warded Man, I don't know if I will even care enough to buy The Daylight War when it comes out, Maybe he can surprise me again, maybe he can hook me and dissuade my constant searching for something not to like about his books. Maybe.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Medieval Times

Just got back from a trip to a rather unique dining experience. It was featured in a Jim Carry Movie once, Where he puts the chicken skin on his face and re-inacts the Silence of the Lambs. I'd always wanted to go to one of these ever since I first found out about it on a visit to Orlando, Florida. I never managed to get to Kissimme though but I'm lucky to live relatively close to one of the newest of the 9 medieval Times Locations. It's fairly expensive, about 50$ a person, but as they were running a special me and a few others managed to pool our resources and go.

If you've never been, or heard of it. It's sort of a faux medieval castle, with an indoor horse arena. They do jousting with balsa wood spears, sword fights and you eat with your hands. There are also of course comely wenches to serve you refills of your favorite soft drinks. It's all pretty kitschy, but at the same time you can't help but have fun. Though, if you were a kid it would be even more fun. Fun for the kid anyway, certainly not for their parents wallets. They do everything possible to separate you from your cash, and have no compunction against leveraging your children against you in this pursuit.

The food of course is nothing like would have been eaten in medieval Europe, it's fairly typical American style fare. Especially, New World, considering the meal contains both a Potato dish and a Tomato dish. But it's tasty if not particularly inspired. If you went in for the food though you would be missing the whole point. It's essentially dinner theatre, an extremely elaborate one more akin to a Universal Studios show or one of the wild west stunt shows they have at theme parks. I imagine it would be a very interesting place to work.. like a climate controlled Renaissance faire.

If you get the chance and are in one of the cities where they have one, you should absolutely go. They generally offer discounts on their website so don't let the cost deter you. If you keep your wits and go in with a cynical eye towards marketing gimmicks its quite affordable. You don't go to the movie theatre to buy posters or action figures do you? It dosen't hurt to buy a flag though to supplement the cheering as the louder the crowd gets the more the performers ham it up. If you get lucky enough to get the Heel's section you are in for even more fun.

A some what similar thing I've found out about, though definitely geared even more towards kids than Medieval Times, is Magi-Quest. It's sort of a take on Lasertag except your a wizard and you zap monsters with your magic wand. They have one in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It's not something I'd personally feel comfortable going too as I don't have any relatives the right age to take. Though by far the coolest thing about Magi-Quest is that Ritchie Blackmore, of Deep Purple, Rainbow and Blackmore's Night.. did the soundtrack for it.

Kid's these days just don't know how good they've got it.. even if they will get stuck eating cat food when their "retire" from work at age 80 due to the national debt having ballooned to 90 bajillion dollars.. might as well have fun while they can.

Friday, February 4, 2011

I know when to admit I was wrong.

So just a few days ago I posted that I felt I had been led astray by author blurbs on Peter V. Brett's "The Warded Man".. Well I've now finished it.. and I've come to apologize to Mr. Brett.

While, yes, the book did start off a bit shaky, over the coming pages the character of Arlen grew, and the other characters showed true humanity. The world is filled with compassionate and caring individuals who though realizing that you can't help everyone, the ones you can help are worth the effort. It turned out to be a great book, and I am eagerly looking forward to reading the sequel "The Desert Spear".

So I hope Peter has a long career, and I especially hope he goes back and writes some stories Before Return, as I'd like to see what his world was like without scorch marks covering it all.

Of all the new-ish authors I've read over the last few years, this was the only author that actually made me want to read more of his work. K.J. Parker and Joe Abercrombie were not capable of grabbing me that way. Though I've been told by a reliable source that I may have written Joe Abercrombie off a tad early, I'm still debating giving him a second chance.