Oh good lord, am I really reading fantasy novels now? As part of a recent infatuation with fantastic 60s/70s book cover design, I stumbled on a wholeOh good lord, am I really reading fantasy novels now? As part of a recent infatuation with fantastic 60s/70s book cover design, I stumbled on a whole pile of 70s Bob Haberfield covers for Michael Moorcock fantasies, and I couldn't resist grabbing at least one (this one). I'm still not convinced that the experimental social critique and psychological disintegration of the 1969 The Black Corridor doesn't constitute Moorcock's sole essential novel, but part of my program of acquiring these covers is that I actually have to read them (though most only take a day or two), so, yeah, now this tale of swords and sorcery. With, granted, an amazing cover:
Beyond the normal mythic trappings, this is a book about frame of reference. Our hero finds himself last of a species superseded by history, or perhaps superseded by a narrowing of perspective, his people becoming complacent and eventually unable to look beyond their immediate world and into the other planes that touch their own. Until disaster, in the form of those narrowest of perspectives, humans, sweeps in and strikes them down (obvious commentary). The natural progression would be for the hero to regain a broader perspective and put it to good use, but the execution here is rather supra-normal, rapidly jumping frames each time they're established and mirroring its themes across time and space. Loss of the protagonist's "old race" to those new upstarts, Humans? Oh that's been happening endlessly throughout time. Even the gods dictating the rules of this world and many others grow complacent and are overthrown, even their perspectives turn out to be killingly narrow in the scope of the universe.
This kind of thought on the place of any one moment in the face of all existence is the best Moorcock has to offer here; the worst are those various essentially throwaway genre moments of swordfights and monsters. Fortunately, a surprising amount of this action unfolds in obliquely poetic moments that remain obscure and unusually memorable -- a giant glimpsed in fog, sweeping its huge net through the sea, for instance, or a cave of flickering phantasms, or the purring garden that greets its visitors with gentle caresses of fronds and flowers, unless it devours them....more
I don't know that I actually liked this better than A Wizard of Earthsea at the time of reading, but looking back it has the far more memorable premisI don't know that I actually liked this better than A Wizard of Earthsea at the time of reading, but looking back it has the far more memorable premise, starting out with a new character bound to live as a kind captive priestess in a darkened labyrinth....more
I probably read this too long ago to really stand by my reaction or give it a rating, but I just remember its being interminably dull and aimless. AndI probably read this too long ago to really stand by my reaction or give it a rating, but I just remember its being interminably dull and aimless. And yet I continued through two more of the series....more
Loved this as a bedtime story at age something-or-other, then read the trilogy as a fourth grader, then went back to this and ... even at that age theLoved this as a bedtime story at age something-or-other, then read the trilogy as a fourth grader, then went back to this and ... even at that age the writing seemed kind of terrible and an obvious step down. But maybe my opinions would flip-flop again were I to revisit this now, almost 20 years later. I'm unlikely to find out soon....more
China Mieville's New Crobuzon is industrial revolution London at its most corrupt and pathological, all its social issues splayed into a menagerie ofChina Mieville's New Crobuzon is industrial revolution London at its most corrupt and pathological, all its social issues splayed into a menagerie of the grotesque and fantastic by Mieville's very formidable imagination. He's also notably distinct from typical fantastic writers for being too cynical for obvious morality and clean resolutions, and for populating his story largely with artists and academics, far from central adventure story casting. Even so, he lets the (albeit gripping) story slide towards extended action sequences later in the book, becoming the Clive Cussler to the first half's Dickens. And let's not even get started on the Deus ex Machinas, whether literal or more deus ex arachnida. Ultimately this is something to read for straight entertainment, then, but uniquely inventive, entertaining entertainment at that....more
I used to read a lot of fantasy epics. I read the Lord of the Rings in about 4th grade, then, I think, the first two Shanara series in Middle School,I used to read a lot of fantasy epics. I read the Lord of the Rings in about 4th grade, then, I think, the first two Shanara series in Middle School, and then half of existing Wheel of Time books in highschool, stopping exactly half way through part five when I realized that
1. I'd be reading them forever 2. I only barely cared about any of the huge cast anymore 3. I really hated potentially omnipotent portagonists 4. Clear good/evil dichotomies are really boring.
And so I left the classic fantasy epic form behind me.
That said, I will always love certain things that this book did have, namely:
1. imagination 2. the ability to build an interesting world and culture from scratch
Years later, I did dive into another fantasy epic, of a sort, China Mieville's very unconventional, very strange The Scar, which is actually readable as a no-commitment stand-alone. This is important, i think, and a nice contrast to the bloated epic that Eye of the World, however entertaining, kicked off....more
I mean, how could I really complain about the sudden popularity of a sort of revamped-Roald-Dahl-turning-into-epic-saga. I mean, when I was in 5th graI mean, how could I really complain about the sudden popularity of a sort of revamped-Roald-Dahl-turning-into-epic-saga. I mean, when I was in 5th grade everyone was reading R.L. Stine, so I think this wave of 5th graders probably had far better tastes....more
Continuing Genre Fiction Spring 2K9. China Mieville's name had kept coming up lately, and this seemed like his best regarded.
Things that prevent me frContinuing Genre Fiction Spring 2K9. China Mieville's name had kept coming up lately, and this seemed like his best regarded.
Things that prevent me from reading fantasy novels: 1. Lack of imagination. If not to envision new and original worlds, what is the genre for? Why, then, do we have so many Tolkien remixes? Why so many elves and trolls and dragons, or else thinly veiled reimaginings thereof? 2. Good vs. Evil. No one else is allowed to be so trite and simple as to send the forces of Good off to fight the forces of Evil, so why are fantasy authors? 3. Omnipotent protagonists. I've had plenty of stories about young men setting off into the world to come into their inherent powers/destiny and defeat the previously identified ultimate Evil, thank you, no more. "Can I unlock the unbelievable power within in me?" is a terribly boring conflict to write an entire book, or even series, about. Tolkien dodged this one, at least. Admittedly, I have similar problems with a lot of things involving superheroes. It just feels like wish fulfillment.
And then there's China Mieville, neatly dodging all of these, to tell me stories I haven't heard about places unique enough to still engage my wonder gland every couple pages or so. The key details here: 1. Mieville studied anthropology. Even when his ideas are pushing into the lazy and banal (Cactus Men! Mosquito Men!), he still manages to flesh them out with culture, history, possibly pathos. There are no damn orcs, or even proxy-orcs. Nothing is so simple. 2. It is not so simple, because the world is not. Every nation seems to bump against others in a vague grasping for its own best interests, wealth and trade routes and sea power. None come close to being obviously good, and a key battle unfolds without the protagonist even knowing who she wants to win. 3. That protagonist is the rarest of all fantasy characters: a middle-aged librarian and linguist who is involved in, but mostly far from central to the events she witnesses. She has no great destiny, no special powers besides those of a linguist and observer. She still seems a little far-fetchedly close to the earth-shaking events that eventually unfold, but she's still a good protagonist, and breath of fresh air in the genre.
Now admittedly, there are probably other people doing similar things, as I haven't really paid attention to the genre for years, and China Mieville is still not doing too much more than spinning crazy, inventive adventure yarns, but I'm just saying that it seems like I'd rather he tell them to me than really all too many other people....more
I read this right after Dr. Dread's Wagon of Wonders, back in grade school. A familiar "Be Careful What You Wish For..." plot, but as such more univerI read this right after Dr. Dread's Wagon of Wonders, back in grade school. A familiar "Be Careful What You Wish For..." plot, but as such more universally useful and probably a better book, though less thrilling, than Dr. Dread....more
Sort of a children's horror novel that I breathlessly read in a couple days in 3rd or 4th grade, unable to put it down or look away. A sort of traveliSort of a children's horror novel that I breathlessly read in a couple days in 3rd or 4th grade, unable to put it down or look away. A sort of traveling circus rolls into a small New Enlgand town, offering aid in a time of drought, but at what cost?...more
I sure did love absurd fantasy/sci-fi epics in 4th grade. Given that I kept up with this particular series well into middle school (I think the BellmaI sure did love absurd fantasy/sci-fi epics in 4th grade. Given that I kept up with this particular series well into middle school (I think the Bellmaker was my last), these would seem to be considerably less forgettable than whatever else I was reading around that time.
Things I remember, also true of basically every other book that followed: -Brian Jacques is good with accents and songs -Brian Jacques can't stop writing about food -There is questing -Colorful cast of villains introduced at the start, only to die one by one in classic 90s action movie format. This is the same format employed by my living room-spanning lego battles of the era, as well, now that I think about it.
Also, it was somewhat unclear, so early in the saga, as to whether these mice lived in a normal-sized real-world abbey, or a special mouse-scale abbey. Seriously, it was pretty ambiguous from what I recall, whereas later I'm almost certain everything was animal-scaled, and humans were essentially nonexistent....more
This was really surprising, actually. Perhaps it shouldn't have been, given how many people whose opinions I respect are Pratchett fans, but I haven'tThis was really surprising, actually. Perhaps it shouldn't have been, given how many people whose opinions I respect are Pratchett fans, but I haven't read a fantasy novel since giving up on Robert Jordan's painstakingly prolonged The Wheel of Time (somewhere in book 5, I think) long before college. Actually, I suppose I read a bunch of the Harry Potters in the interim, but in some ways that felt more like keeping up with pop culture than reading actual fantasy.
In any event, Going Postal was purely a pleasure. Compared to the grueling epics I recall from years ago, Pratchett's style was brisk and entertaining, his humor completely suffusing the tone of the book in a way that reminded me of Douglas' Adams' approach to science fiction. But whereas Adams' plotlines can be meandering and perhaps secondary to his constant seeking of the absurd, Pratchett's were elaborately coiled, well-paced, and compelling, and his characters, amusing and strange as they often were, had a certain sincerity that kept me interested in their welfare. Ridiculous name aside, Moist von Lipwig's reluctantly scrupulous con artist (emphasis on 'artist', as his maneuvering definitely deserves such a word) was exceedingly entertaining to follow.
Pratchett's underlying thoughts and satire also seemed fairly spot-on. His commentary on the nature of hope suggests that he would understand why so many under-privileged Americans tend to vote Republican against their best financial interests (besides its application in many other areas of human nature), and the bits about personal momentum were sufficiently commanding as to grant even the reader a resounding sense of motion and possibility from time to time.
I suppose Pratchett may not be to everyone's taste (and I was not sure he would be to mine) but he seems to be very skilled in his particular niche. Yes, this was very good. Mostly just at being a fun diversion, but also perhaps as well thought out and gracefully executed literature. ...more