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Of books unread

I was at the bookstore the other day -- I'm dangerously close to a Barnes and Noble now -- and I was wandering through the science fiction and fantasy isle. I picked up a new hardcover, one of those thick ones with arty jackets and lots of overblown praise from people who are important (I guess) in the science fiction and fantasy world. I opened the book at random. Here are the words from a character of this phantasmagoric, richly imagistic, wildly conceptual, stunningly original (to use standard blurb words for these kinds of things) work of fantasy: "Fuck that shit."

I put the book back.

I tell you what, I ask so little of the world. I ask only that I not have to read "fuck and suck" and suchlike terminology in stories about fantastical otherworlds populated by myth-spawned creatures and larger-than-life heroes. I can't imagine Aragorn saying to Sam "fuck it, the little fucker ran off to Mordor with the ring," can you? It looks like the only fantasy novel I'll be buying this year is The Children of Hurin, and maybe the last Potter one when the frenzy has died down. As for the rest, I've got a ton of classical reading to catch up on. You know, books from back in the day when bad old oppressive laws and customs meant authors actually had to think before they wrote.

Comments (9)

HT [TypeKey Profile Page]:

Have you read the works of E.R. Eddison? They date from the 30's, and meet the standards for civility and creativity that seem so recently to have disappeared. Mistress of Mistresses and The Worm Ouroboros are the two best known, and I re-read them about as often as I re-visit Tolkien.

Yes, I have both books. Or at least I have The Worm Ouroboros -- I just bought it recently. I've owned Mistress of Mistresses for years or I used to but it was a small paperback and if I still have it it's buried in the box of small paperbacks. (One day I'm going to buy some of those dvd-cd shelves and put them up for the small paperbacks -- regular bookshelves are just too deep.)

aelfheld [TypeKey Profile Page]:

I recommend the George R.R. Martin series (starting with A Game of Thrones); good writing, intricate storyline.

If you're looking for humour with a philosophical bent (or philosophy with a humourous bent), Terry Pratchett's Discworld series is good; it beats The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy twenty ways to Sunday.

HT [TypeKey Profile Page]:

If you decide to go for the Discworld books (and they are a hoot), only read the first eighty-seven or so. After that Pratchett starts to recycle his own punch lines a bit...

I haven't been able to get into Martin -- there's something about his stories that put me off, I can't quite figure out what. And I don't care much for Pratchett; I like my fantasy straight, not parodic. To tell you the truth, I've gotten jaded on the whole fantasy genre -- my taste in such runs in a very narrow vein and I've mined just about all I can of it. Also I find my ability to concentrate has worn away over the years, and I can't just devour books like I used to. But I still search for that novel with that special something that appeals to only me... I thought Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell had it, but I got bogged down in the middle and haven't been able to finish it. Possibly this is the signal that I have to start writing instead of reading. If only I could hold a thought in my head for more than two minutes.

You could try the Isavalta cycle, although it's best to read in the order 2, 1, 3.

Hm. Looks interesting.

aelfheld [TypeKey Profile Page]:

Most of Martin's writing prior to A Game of Thrones, etc. has left me cool.

You might like Elizabeth Willey's fantasy trilogy - the first book (chronologically the last) is reminiscent of Zelazny's Amber series, but well-written for all that it's derivative.

Try Neil Gaiman's Stardust - it's a fairy story in the old sense of the term.

I've read Stardust. It kind of lost my interest halfway through. I've never been interested in the Amber series. I believe I picked up one of the books, then put it down. Perhaps this is why (a quote from one of the novels that I just found on the internet follows):

Eric loosened his blade in its scabbard.
"You want the throne," he said.
"Don't we all?" I told him.
"I guess so," he said with a sigh. "It's true, that uneasy-lies-the-head bit."

That sort of joking, referential "meta-fantasy" leaves me cold. Fantasy should not "break the fourth wall." If I want to be at all times aware that I am sitting in my apartment reading a book instead of actually enjoying the story, I would not read fantasy.

Now, one of the authors I do like, Fritz Leiber, often skirted the edges of this sort of thing in his Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series, but in his best stories he didn't.

I will pontificate more on this later. I've got soup sitting in the microwave.

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