Monday, January 30, 2012

Sequestration of Harshitude.

The title really makes no sense.. but Harshitude.. a Dude'ism if ever there was one.. is about the best word I could really think of.

I just got done reading a rather critical look at the works of Steven Spielberg. It had a portion that really resonated with me, specifically about how I feel towards the "Grimdark" sub genre of Fantasy.

"In each of his issue films, Spielberg presents a bleak world, then finds a ray of hope within it. Often, that contrast between light and despair is rendered visually, and not always comfortably so. In Ryan, the gray, grainy, skittery feel of the invasion of Normandy clashes with the gauzy shots of the aged Matt Damon at the grave sites. In Amistad, the awful portrayal of the Atlantic Passage jars against the scenes in which John Quincy Adams, like a character in a play, stands off from the people he’s speaking with to declaim his lines into the distance. Spielberg is sacrificing aesthetics in his intense desire to sequester the harsh material cinematically. He never commits to a worldview that doesn’t ultimately have a sunny patina."

That is a very good explanation of what my problems with Grimdark really are. I don't mind the graphic depictions of war or battle, what I draw issue with is their general lack of hope. Lots of defenders of the sub genre like to point out that Lord of the Rings, ends on a pretty down note. They are some what right, yes, Frodo never really recovers, The world will never be quite so magical as it was before, but the world has hope returned to it. Most of Robert E. Howard's works, again sometimes pointed to by the grimdarkers, isn't so much against civilization but for the triumph of human spirit and will power. Hopeful themes both.

Granted not all of Spielberg's movies make sense. He twists reality to fit his worldview. He forces his films, if not have a happy ending, at least only have a bittersweet ending. He doesn't do down endings. Even the bulk of the films he produces follow this model. Think about how culturally important the movies he has directed or produced are, not only to the culture of the United States, but likely to the world in general. Arguably he is less culturally important than George Lucas, another man who shares the some what gauzy rose tinted world view. The two men are after all frequent collaborators/partners in crime. When I think about just how many films I've seen that Speilberg or Lucas made.. It begins to make sense to me why I have such a similar world view.

Even in Lucas's darkest turn, The Empire Strikes Back, which I've never hidden the fact it is my least favorite of all 6 films in the Star Wars series.. precisely because it's such a departure from the rest of the work Lucas puts out. I can't view it as anything but a middle chapter, it exists to shift the characters from the end of A New Hope, to the beginning of Return of the Jedi. Just as the down ending of Revenge of the Sith functions to transition the hopefulness at the end of Attack of the Clones into the hopefulness of A New Hope.

I grew up watching Star Wars, Willow, The Goonies, Back to the Future, Hook, Jurassic Park, and Batteries not included over and over again. It's really no surprise I can't deal with bad endings. I grew up being exposed to media that presented the bad guys winning as anathema to itself. The Bad Guys ALWAYS lose. Thats the way it should be. Hope remains, and with it reaffirmation that the world isn't really as crappy as it seems to be.

Maybe that's not accurate. In fact I know it's a lie. But it's a lie I willingly accept in order to not sink into depression. That's perhaps the whole point, and says more about me than it does about the people who write down books.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What do I know of cultured ways, the gilt, the craft and the lie?

More apt words I cannot think of. Today would mark the 106th Birthday of Robert E. Howard. It's difficult to know what he would think of the world today. In many ways he was abjectly progressive. His views on Women especially set him apart from the rest of his generation. In other ways he was reactionary, especially if he was writing a letter to a Non Texan or a Non Southerner. But one thing he wasn't, and that was normal. There is no mistaking that Bob was a Texan through and through. So he wasn't exactly a square peg in a round hole, but he had a few rough edges that kept him from fitting comfortably. This discomfort was probably a great factor in his imaginative output. The output which inspired so many people, lead to the creation of so many things, movies, music, games, endless streams of novels written in imitation of the master.

Though it may cause discomfort, Fitting in, isn't supposed to be mandatory. It confers certain social advancements. It most certainly isn't supposed to be dangerous. If you've read my ramblings for any length of time then you know I'm an advocate for the outsider. The kid who got picked on for playing D&D. The boy with long hair. The girl who likes metal and has a Mohawk. The guy in Texas who writes fantasy stories instead of getting a real job. All these things come with their downsides, lack of job opportunities, social ostracism, or even outright pariah status in school. This has its own downsides. It leads to depression, anxiety, people becoming stranger because they retreat into themselves to escape a world they don't fit into. Sometimes, like Robert E. Howard, they feel they have no alternative but to depart this world for another.

But that is a personal choice, those of us who survive are merely left to wonder why. Our status as bystanders disqualifies us from ever fully understanding the inner workings of another person. We should be understanding of others differences. Differences and hobbies and interests aren't supposed to be damning enough to take your entire childhood away. Being a Nerd or a Goth or an Emo or a Geek isn't supposed to be Dangerous. But in Arkansas that's exactly what it was.

I'm sure you all are aware of the nausea inducing West Memphis 3 case. Where a podunk town railroaded three boys into prison for the murder of 3 children, using as evidence heavy metal albums, black clothes and Stephen King novels to support an outlandish hypothesis involving ritual sacrifice and Satan worship. They were recently released, with the understanding that they admit they did it. It allowed some people in Arkansas with severe indigestion to sleep more soundly, but it didn't clear the boys names, it didn't give them their adolescence back. Unfortunately this rescue from the cusp of death wasn't at the hands of Roland Deschain, Jireal, Conan and Aragorn riding to the judges house and forcing him to recant his misguided decision, to crawl on bended knee to beg forgiveness for his sins, to ride an ass backwards in front of the gates of Jerusalem so that all might know his foolishness. The only reason it happened it all is because a filmmaker from New Zealand with deep pockets took it upon himself to do something to right this wrong.

Just because they are out of jail doesn't mean it's over. They still have a great big GUILTY next to their names. The flaws unearthed by this injustice are still built into the system. It could happen again. Remember that. If you don't fit in, This could happen again. No I think it will happen again, probably has happened again already and we just don't know about it because it didn't get media attention. Didn't get musicians and actors and filmmakers attentions.

It is my hope that Peter Jackson's recently produced West of Memphis documentary has just premiered at Sundance. If nothing else, if it can be prevented from happening again, then something good will have come out of this.

It is important for us to accept others as they are. I want to wrap up by talking about Bob Howard. A Man who I feel like I almost know but don't quite. He didn't quite fit in. I'm not going to postulate on why he killed himself. That's not fair to him. He knows why he did it. I wonder if he had found more acceptance in life if he would have felt it his only option. I wonder if these three boys had lived somewhere, where being different wasn't a sin, if there would have been another option.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Undertake the Odyssey.

As anyone who has been involved with Fantasy, Role Playing, and general geekiness will be able to tell you.. there is a long history of incestuousness between Hard Rock/Heavy Metal bands and the various realms of secondary creation. Led Zeppelin arguably was one of the earliest, with repeated references to Tolkien's work begging to appear on their 2nd album. But it wasn't until the space/prog rock period that the idea of a Concept album became possible.

Band's such as RUSH and King Crimson produced multi-part epic songs detailing entire story-lines based on secondary worlds. It's my suspicion that a RUSH song may have been the inspiration for The Sword of Shannara. Hawkwind collaborated repeatedly with Michael Moorcock. This sort of thing never really has gone away, it mutated maybe, but even bands like Metallica and Megadeth have songs which directly reference the words of H.P. Lovecraft. It has metastasized into bands such as Blind Guardian who create entire albums based around fantasy concepts.

Many of these albums though came from groups who never tried to hide these aspects, they were there from the very beginning. Worn proudly on their sleeves, be they J.C. Penny front pocket shirts or Denim jackets with the sleeves torn off. But occasionally you get a group which you think would do this sort of thing regularly, and instead what you get is stadium jock rock ala Ac/Dc. A Good example of this is KISS. Despite the make up and glam rock aspect of the band, their music for the most part deals more with partying and sex than it does with elves and adventures.

The exception being their 1981 album "Music from (The Elder)". The band does it's best to ignore the album. Which is a shame. It's a great experiment by a band which doesn't really challenge itself that much. But as with any unexpected experimentation this did not go over really well with the band's fans. Perhaps even less well than their brief experiment with ditching the Glam Rock makeup and costumes. People like KISS, but they like KISS to be KISS.

But "Music from (The Elder)" is a great fantasy album. It features lyrics written by Lou Reed, advanced vocalizations by Ace Freely, Faux Gregorian chants, extensive use of synthesizers and a continue story from beginning to end. It details the story of the selection and education of a young boy by a group of mystical elders so that he can confront the villainous Mr. Blackwell. It cries out for a sequel. Where does the boy go afterwords?

It's apparently the subject of a new crowd-sourced independent film which is in the early stages of being made. Described as 'The Road meets Excalibur'. I wish them luck on it. Films such as 'The Hunt for Gollum' illustrate that you don't need huge budgets to get high quality Fantasy films made.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

... Do what you want cause a Pirate is Free.

Alright. I'm pretty mad now. In case you aren't aware a whole host of websites are protesting SOPA by taking themselves offline and replacing themselves with black censor bars. It's not going to do a bit of good because none of the big ones are doing it. Google isn't. Yahoo isn't. AOL and Microsoft sure aren't. The thinking goes that if they make the internet annoying enough people will write to their congressmen and senators and blah blah blah democratic processes blah blah blah while they continue to delude themselves that those letters don't go directly into the Round File so the politician they wrote to can get back to suckling at the uhh.. appendage.. of the Mugwump of big business.

Writing letters won't change anything. If these websites really want to change something they need to play the game properly. Steven Colbert is doing it right now and mocking it all the way to the bank. Set up a PAC, SuperPAC, 401c etc. Spam the crap out people with Direct Mailings accusing the politicians who support it with negative attack adds. Accuse them of supporting clubbing baby seals or something. Hell, accuse them all of speaking French, or looking French for that matter.. it seems to be all it takes to tank some one's political career these days.

If they think this stunt is going to make me waste my time writing to some spineless, greedy, bought and paid for corporate shill of a politician they are having a laugh. All it's doing is making me and doubtlessly plenty more people mad at the websites for not being accessible.

So yeah, The Oatmeal, Jimmy Wales, even all you are doing is engaging in annoying self aggrandizement and it's not going to change anything because you're just not important enough.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Lighter, Easier to Lift, New and Improved Wallet technology for the masses!

Errr.. what I mean to say is I'm now flat dead broke. I just dropped 600$ on textbooks for school.

It's exciting getting ready to go back even if it is atrociously expensive. The books cost nearly as much as the classes themselves do.

I've also finished Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erickson. Despite some peoples attempt to lump him into the Grimdark category I don't think he really fits. Comparing the book to Glen Cook and Roger Zelazny is probably the most apt. When the Bridgburners are there it almost feels as if you are reading lost annals of the Black Company.

Sure the book is darker than David Eddings or Terry Brooks.. I'd liken to to maybe Norman Mailer dark but not Cormac Mcarthy Dark.. I've not had any sort of visceral revulsion to the book like I did to Joe Abercrombie. So far it seems to be shaping up to be a fairly promising series, I'm looking forward to tackling the second volume "Deadhouse Gates" as soon as I've finished Phillip Jose Farmer's "The Makers of Universes".

Monday, January 2, 2012

Grimdark's (maybe?) death rattle?

Over the last several weeks, I've noticed that Joe Abercrombie's newest book The Heroes has taken a bit of a drubbing. There was also something of a conflagration over on the Westeros forums about just what exactly constituted going to far. This constitutes something of an about face from the previous two years. Abercrombie, Bakker, Morgan and Mievelle seemed to get a pass consistently. Are the mighty morphin' Moorcock rangers about to meet their match? As the economies of the world begin to splutter back to life and things maybe start to get better in this new year filled with possibility.. will people continue to seek out the cynical, grim darkness of a future which knows only turmoil or will they instead begin to gravitate towards new authors who specifically state they reject that view such as Michael J. Sullivan? Is it time perhaps for a new David Eddings or Terry Brooks to find their place in the crowded world of literature?

The one author who seemed to have never been allowed to get away with the grimdark concept, Terry Goodkind, released a new Richard and Kahlan novel last year. His series moved into the Grimdark genre some where around the 4th or 5th volume. Though on one hand, His work might even be worse than some of the others mentioned above. They have morally shady people doing morally shady things. Goodkind had people who were for all intents and purposes morally upstanding people doing abominable things to their political enemies for no other reason than not being interested in changing philosophies. Goodkind's books basically called for a great Objectivist crusade against the forces of the Left, with no quarter offered or given. From what I can see from the local Barnes & Noble it did about as well as his last couple. The dedicated bought it, everyone else ignored it and will pick it up cheap on the discount table in a few months. It didn't move the same way Dance with Dragons or Wise Man's Fear moved. It's a shame because I think he's the sort of author who never catches on that if he were to focus on his, to me anyway, amazingly unique magic system, rather than on the political foibles of his characters.. He could be a much greater author.

None of these authors were really doing anything differently than Scot Siecin has been doing for years. Gussying up an only Okay story with buckets of blood and gore and sex. I'm curious to see if the Avatar Trilogy he wrote for Forgotten Realms will follow the same pattern of his later books, or if he degraded over time. I'm looking forward to that series with some trepidation. It covers the monumentally important "Time of Troubles" in the realms, but is also written by an author who I don't much care for.

Speaking of Forgotten Realms, I suppose I really have to thank Mark Barrowcliffe for igniting a love of those books. Since my review of his book "The Elfish Gene" and him so thoughtfully stepping by to ask me to give it another look, I've read more of them in a single year than I had in my entire Life. I suppose it was initially out of spite, but now I just find myself enjoying reading stories about totally disparate groups of people in a familiar landscape. The books vary in quality dramatically, Kate Novak and Ed Greenwood's I don't care for that much. They are over written, meandering, and feel to much like some one wrote them from notes from a game they were running. Doug Niles and R.A. Salvatore however write books that were great fun.

Back to the Grim Dark Future, Games Workshop has themselves slipped farther into position as undisputed evil overlord of the miniatures market. They've decided to cease production on all of their Metal miniatures, opting instead to replace them with new Resin ones. Which are ludicrously more expensive, and are also as always, being released on a staggered market. It made my plans of trying to build a night goblin army untenable. I went and looked at 40k instead, and low and behold even the squeaky clean Tau are now beginning to look a bit tarnished. I suppose though with the emergence of all the new Necron forces anyone could be forgiven for getting a bit more hardcore. The upswing of this new villainy on the other hand is that it is finally encouraging some of the smaller up and coming miniatures companies to produce compatible kits, some of which are extremely nice.

I suppose we will see how 2012 goes in the days, weeks and months ahead. It will either be better, the same, or worse than last year. Or maybe a combination of the three. But I definitely think that there is a bit more optimism on offer than the last 3 had on tap.