|The Rings of... Meh.
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Monday, September 26, 2022
I was OOO (and frankly, only semi-coherent) this past Friday-Sunday, after a sorely needed guys weekend getaway. Me and four other dudes rented a house on Whaley Lake in Holmes, NY, consuming booze and retelling old college stories. Included in the trip was a stop at Darryl's House, a bar/restaurant owned by Darryl Hall, where we took in a wonderful Foreigner tribute band. If you ever come across Double Vision, check them out, they're highly recommended.
As a result I failed to mention my most recent blog post for Tales from the Magician's Skull/blog of Goodman Games is now up: Stranger Things in the Stories of Michael Moorcock.
I hope you like it. I enjoyed digging out the old AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide for this, and my treasured copy of S2: White Plume Mountain.
Friday, September 23, 2022
Wednesday, September 21, 2022
|Some hanging... much stabbing.
These books are all over 500 pages, far longer than the lean and mean S&S I typically prefer. I’m not the biggest fan of this type of thing: Epic fantasy/Grimdark, multi-volume series of phonebook sized tomes. With a few exceptions. I’ll gladly read long series from the likes of Bernard Cornwell, for example.
Joe Abercrombie is another exception. I’ll read what the dude puts out. He’s an excellent writer and the First Law are easily among the best books I’ve read this year. His strengths as I see them are:
• Ear for dialogue. His characters speak with unique voices, with each other (not at each other, not in declarative speech, but dialogue), and through the dialogue the plot moves apace. He also adds a simultaneous internal dialogue that reveals the characters’ thoughts simultaneously—which is sometimes at odds with the carefully concealed lies they speak aloud.
• Characterization. A series of this size requires a cast of characters and I would say at least 3-4 are something approaching fully realized. There are characters you remember, including Ninefingers, Ferro, Jezal, Glokta, and to a lesser degree West and Dogman, to whom you can’t wait to return.
• Depictions of violence. If you like battles (who doesn’t?) these are taut, wildly dangerous, unpredictable. Abercrombie is up there with the likes of Bernard Cornwell and GRRM for desperate melees and violence that you can picture as you read it. There is an amazing sequence in which a main character who thinks he’s victorious is suddenly struck in the face with a mace, and after a detour into unconsciousness returns to the horror of pain and disfigurement. Grimdark, but very well done.
A few specific observations and a few critiques.
Abercrombie is at this best when he’s focused on the conflict of human beings and gritty reality, but seems slightly out of his element when portraying fantastic elements. I find his use of monsters/magic not entirely convincing, and not as compelling to read. Which is why his The Heroes resonated strongly with me—there’s nary of whiff of magic in it. I have a hard time picturing what the Shanka look like; they are called “flatheads” but are essentially orcs (I think?)—hordes of cannon fodder with less menace than any of the human protagonists. Likewise Bayaz, a great wizard of the first order, can move things with his mind with a psionic-like power, but it fails to awe or inspire. Bayaz in general reminds me of a much less likeable, highly irritable Gandalf.
I could see Abercrombie morphing into an author of historical fiction. There is a lost Empire of Gurkhul that evokes the ancient Roman empire, of past glories of architecture and construction that can no longer be achieved by the peoples of the current (fallen) age, only glimpsed through ruins. I think he could do a wonderful series set in 6th or 7th century Britain, something like Cornwell’s Arthurian trilogy.
Despite the story moving apace, and the general high quality of the prose, the series does not entirely avoid the bloat endemic to almost all high fantasy. Some of the sequences, even when well done, feel like semi-indulgent detours into world-building. I think the overall page count could be safely reduced. Probably more of a preference-thing; some people love world-building. Not really my thing.
A final note: I was tickled at mid-book to read what is essentially a voyage into Moria complete with the bridge of Khazad-dum, a bridge “soaring across a dizzy space in one simple arch, impossibly delicate.” It is a work of some master maker, “undiminished. They shine the brighter, if anything, for they shine in a darkened world.” At one point the group’s guide, Longfoot, launches into an entirely un-Abercrombie-like soliloquy complete with archaic, high language that sounds as if it issued from Boromir or Aragorn, completely different than the rough, coarse, modern dialogue typical of the rest of the book:
“And this is why I love to travel,” breathed Longfoot. “At one stroke, in one moment, this whole journey has been made worthwhile. Has there ever been such another sight? How many men living can have gazed upon it? The three of us stand at a window upon history, at a gate into the long-forgotten past? No longer will I dream of fair Talins, glittering on the sea in the red morning, or Ul-Nahb, glowing beneath the azure bow of the heavens in the bright midday, or Ospira, proud upon her mountain slopes, lights shining like the stars in the soft evening. From this day forth, my heart will forever belong to Aulcus.”
Longfoot is then cut off by Ferro, raining on his parade by calling the sight a “load of old buildings,” which rips us back into the dark narrative. Perhaps Abercrombie (a big fan of Martin, his chief inspiration for the First Law) is taking a bit of a piss out of old JRRT. Interesting, nonetheless.
Saturday, September 17, 2022
Friday, September 16, 2022
What? Saxon has yet to make an appearance on Metal Friday?
Consider that corrected. I could have thrown up something from Denim and Leather but instead went with this straightforward rocker off Innocence is No Excuse.
Love the slow atmospheric build on this. The drums are perfect, as is the guitar tone. Everything I love about mid-80s metal.
It's Friday, we'll be rocking again.
Friday, September 9, 2022
Today's Metal Friday is a cut off Nightfall in Middle-Earth by the great Blind Guardian.
"Blood Tears" is typical of the work on this album... fucking awesome. The tempo changes in this one...wow. At 1:33 the song transforms from an atmospheric and melodic medieval feel, to full-on mosh-pit. Then returns. There and back again.
Tolkien is on my brain a bit more than usual (JRRT never leaves this cranium) due to the recent Rings of Power, which I still haven't watched. Will I? I don't know, I'm feeling very apathetic about it all. I’m not a big TV watcher, but mainly I have no faith Amazon can recreate Tolkien's genius.
But I can say Blind Guardian channeled a bit of it, with Nightfall in Middle-Earth. Enjoy this bit of First Age storytelling. “Captured” and “Blood Tears” are about the capture of Maedhros, Morgoth’s chaining of the Elven hero by his wrist to a sheer cliff in the mountains of Thangorodrim, and his deliverance when Fingon hacks off his hand. Blind Guardian offers a moving look into the mind of Maedhros and the torment and pain he must have experienced:
And blood tears I cry
You've searched and you've found
Cut off your old friends hand
Thursday, September 8, 2022
We don’t always stop to praise others whose stuff we read, or who are doing general good work in the spaces we enjoy. So here’s a shout-out to a few folks who deserve it for their work as S&S champions/commentators/historians/publishers/etc *:
Dave Ritzlin: DMR Books is the premiere publisher of all things S&S/S&P/heroic fantasy, which makes Dave, well, the premiere publisher of all things S&S/S&P/heroic fantasy. For that alone he deserves our praise. But on top of that he curates a must-read website and is a good S&S writer in his own right. Recently he’s been running a series of interviews with contemporary S&S authors, “Independent Author Spotlight,” to champion their work. So I thought I’d champion his.
Deuce Richardson: Deuce is an interesting dude. I have never met him in person but have corresponded with him a bit over the years and had a couple phone calls. I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone with a memory like his, or quite as well-read (except for the late Steve Tompkins). His stuff at DMR Books is always worth reading. He never fails to recognize important anniversaries. Strong historian and champion of pre-S&S adventure writers. I love his posts unearthing artwork from artists I know well but whose full catalog I have not seen.
Jason Ray Carney: The hardest working person in this space? I would say, yes, without question. I don’t know how Jason manages to do it, but he’s pulled off a small conference, established awards, edits several amateur magazines (Whetstone, Witch House), started up the Whetstone discord group, writes fiction and non-fiction books and academic essays, edits The Dark Man journal, creates Youtube videos, speaks at conferences, organizes online panel sessions, on and on. Boundless energy and erudition.
Oliver Brackenbury: Oliver has been hard at work bringing new voices to S&S. I’ve enjoyed several episodes of his So I’m Writing a Novel podcast, which has morphed into interviews with a diverse range of writers old and new. He is also the host of Unknown Worlds of the Merril Collection podcast, a moderator on the Whetstone server, and more.
G.W. Thomas: A bit of an unsung hero in this space but deserves greater recognition. Every time I go to Google something S&S related, it turns up something with his name on it. I recently wrote a piece for DMR on S&S in Fantastic magazine and halfway through realized Thomas had already done something similar. He provides encyclopedic coverage of the genre in a fun way for Dark Worlds Quarterly and elsewhere. I’m indebted to his comprehensive, thorough, tireless work.
*There are many others of course but that’s for another post, another day.
Friday, September 2, 2022
|More witches! Art by Jones.
Anyway, I got to reading these old back issues and that led me where my reading inevitably does—to thinking, and writing. I sent a lengthy article about S&S in Fantastic, including the four L. Sprague de Camp/Lin Carter Conan pastiches that appeared between 1972-75, over to Dave Ritzlin at DMR Books the other day. I expect that to appear on his website next week.
Speaking of pastiches, I recently started reading The Goddess of Ganymede (excellent thus far) and author Michael D. Resnick leads off the volume with this:
To Edgar Rice Burroughs Fans Everywhere
I hope you enjoy reading this Burroughs pastiche as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Finally, I see that we now have a cover of the new Conan novel by S.M. Stirling, Blood of the Serpent. I join a chorus of others in wishing the cover was more classic S&S, a Frazetta-esque painting of the Cimmerian perhaps, but hey, it’s clean, it works, there is a sword on it, and a snake. Two S’s, now that I think of it (too clever by half)? But now this new and latest Conan pastiche feels a lot more tangible.
I tie all of these experiences with pastiches into Deuce Richardson’s recent piece over at DMR Books and it’s got me thinking about this practice as well.
I have mixed feelings on pastiches, and likewise think we need some better-defined terms. Resnick is here using “pastiche” in its original definition, as Deuce lays out “A literary, artistic, musical, or architectural work that imitates the style of previous work.” The Goddess of Ganymede is the story of American soldier of fortune, Adam Thane, on a mission to Jupiter. His spacecraft loses contact with earth and is forced to land on its satellite moon, Ganymede, where Thane is embroiled in swashbuckling adventure. Thane finds he can take huge jumps due to the weaker gravitational pull of the planet, encounters red-skinned inhabitants of the planet, etc. In other words, a transparent Burroughs homage/imitation/pastiche.
De Camp meanwhile used “pastiche” as the continued stories of an established literary character by a new author. That term became synonymous with what he and Carter did with the likes of the Conan story “The Witch of the Mists” (August 1972 Fantastic). This is sort of how we all think of “pastiche” today.
My current stance on (De Campian-style) pastiche is: I enjoy them (when done well) and have no problem with others continuing to write new stories of beloved characters. I do think fidelity to the original character/world/lore should be a very high priority. And I’m also of the belief that pastiches should contain a short introduction to the original series or other clear indicator that these are imitations, not the real McCoy, to prevent any confusion with new readers and point them in the direction of the source material. But if you want to write them (and have the rights), have at it. If it's good, I might read it.