Thursday, April 26, 2012

Books read so far.

With the first 3rd of the year nearing a close, I felt I would post a list of what I've read so far. Needless to say, due to school, this list is much shorter than it typically is by this time of year. The last two years I set myself the, at the time, highly manageable, goal of reading 150+ books. 2010 I exceeded that and nearly cleared 170. 2011 I started school in the fall, and it became a truly monumental struggle to meet my goal of 150 volumes, I did it, but only barely.

This year I opted to set my goal lower, 75 books, for the year.  

1. Gardens of the Moon - Malazan: Book of the Fallen #1 - Steven Erikson *****
2. Tree of Smoke - Denis Johnson ****
3. Beyond Good and Evil - Friedrich Neitzsche ***
4. The Maker of Universes - World of Tiers #1 -  Phillip Jose Farmer ***
5. The King and the Cowboy - David Fromkin **
6. The Gates of Creation - World of Tiers #2 -Phillip Jose Farmer ***
7. Pigeon Feathers - John Updike *** (Read for school)
8. Quag Keep - Andre Norton ***
9. A Private Cosmos - World of Tiers #3 - Phillip Jose Farmer ***
10. Deadhouse Gates - Malazan: Book of the Fallen #2 - Steven Erikson ***
11. The Things they Carried - Tim O'brien *** (Read for school)
12. Beyond the Walls of Terra - World of Tiers #4 - Phillip Jose Farmer **
13. The Joy Luck Club - Amy Tan ** (Read for School)
14. The Rise of the West - William Hardy Mcneil ****
15. The lavalite World - World of Tiers #5 -Phillip Jose Farmer **
16. In Love and Trouble - Alice Walker ** (Read for School)
17. The Oracle Betrayed - Oracle #1 - Catherine Fisher ****
18. World War One British Poets - Candace Ward *** (Read for school)
19. 1421: The Year China Discovered America - Gavin Menzies  * (Read for school, Utter Crap)
20. A Vocation and a Voice - Kate Chopin *** (Read for school)
21. Magician: Apprentice - Riftwar #1 - Raymond E. Feist ****
22. Red Orc's Rage - World of Tiers #6 - Phillip Jose Farmer *
23. Memories of Ice - Malazan: Book of the Fallen #3 - Steven Erikson ****
24. More than Fire - World of Tiers #7 - Phillip Jose Farmer **
25. Howl's Moving Castle - Diana Wynne Jones ****
26. Tolkien and the Great War - John Garth ****
27. House of Chains - Malazan: Book of the Fallen #4 - Steven Erikson ***

Currently working on House of the Wolfings by William Morris, Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson and Magician: Master by Raymond E. Feist.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Salon asks, Where are the heros? It's a good question.

So maybe those of us who have been asking this question for the last few years aren't alone per say, but rather we are ahead of the curve. Salon Magazine author Willa Paskin asks in her new column the exact question. Just where are all the Heroes in TV. She states, rather effectively in my opinion, that we have the Sopranos to thank for much of the shift in television. Obviously, the Sopranos cannot be responsible for all of it, but they certainly shoulder a good bit of the blame.

The first wave of antihero shows acted as a statement of purpose about television’s new, serious ambitions. If historically, TV had been a medium designed to sell you soap, to entertain and distract you, a vehicle for commercials, the antihero thoroughly upended that. If you watched Tony Soprano, Vince Mackey or any of the corner boys, cops or drug kings on “The Wire” like they were characters you had seen before, heroes in waiting, you were going to get sucker-punched and devastated over and over and over again. An antihero was an aggressive way to short-circuit viewers’ expectations, to show them they were watching something brave and new. TV could be challenging, thorny, difficult, and there was no better way to convey this than through the challenging, difficult, thorny central character.(Paskin)
I think this quotation is extremely telling, and rather vindicating. I've felt frequently as if I've been shouting into the wilderness when explaining just what my central concern was with so called "Grimdark" fantasy. It isn't that it, or The Sopranos, exists which is the problem. It is merely that it garners so much publicity that it overshadows everything else. It's not as much of a problem now as it was this time last year, before Leo Grin's now infamous essay was published, but at one time it seemed the only authors I ever heard about or saw reviewed were authors who peopled their worlds with variously shaded gray-scale denizens. There is definitely room for those sorts of books and characters, but I feel the point I and so many of the rest of us were trying to convey is, they shouldn't be exulted to the point of ignoring more traditionally heroic characters.

But we are well past the place where thinking people doubt TV’s artistic potential, and well into the territory where the antihero is a cliché. And yet he still flourishes, in shows both good and, increasingly, not so good, even as series like “The Good Wife” and its cynical worldview, or “Friday Night Lights” and its dazzling, wonderful Mr. and Mrs. Coach demonstrate, yet again, that the antihero is not necessary to ambitious television.(Paskin)

If even the watchers of TV are catching on that this has become a cliche I think it might be safe to stop calling it a Hypothesis and start calling it a Theory. But at the same time, Fantasy Literature already has begun to show signs of shifting away from it, even as authors like Bakker, Abercrombie, Morgan, et al continue to write the same, or even darker, books than they were previously. The worst thing these authors could do is ignore the possibility of occasionally having a heroic character and instead beginning to make use of the perpetual novice hack trick of splashing more blood, gore and guts onto the page. 

Further, I think several of the comments on the topic illustrate the more specific problem, that, frankly it's the fault of the reviewers who refuse to look to the more classically heroic programing due to risking their highbrow status by doing so who are to blame. If it weren't for reviewers making a fuss over these sorts of books then likely they wouldn't have gotten quite as popular as they did. Simply put though, these authors were and are providing something different, and typically different is conflated with progressive or some other such term which makes people feel that by reviewing them they too can be progressive or cutting edge. In the end we wind up with a lot of E-Ink being expended to discuss the books which have now become a cliche in and of themselves.

Ultimately I think the lesson that can be learned from this whole thing, now having been on going for years, is that the reader should read what they like, and certainly shouldn't trust a reviewer that something is good just cause.

I'll continue to ignore The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and the rest of Grimdark TV just as I do Grimdark novels. I will continue to go and see Superhero movies, read my boring contrived repetitive farmboy-goes-on-quest books and try to take a few minutes away from the 'Real world' every so often, I don't have space in my life to allow my entertainment to try and drag me down too.