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Entries in Fantasy Lit (5)

Wednesday
Mar192014

Gotta Love Those “Wow!” Moments 

Don’t you love those moments when you’re reading, when everything in the real world starts to fade away?  You’re turning pages at a smooth yet slightly increasing pace to see what’s going to happen next.  Your heart starts to race, your muscles tense.  And then – “Wow!”  You get hit with something that makes you stop.  It’s really more like a “Pow!” because you have to step back from the book to contemplate, to admire, to be amazed. 

Now, I’m not talking about the awesome grandeur you experience with vast, intricate Tolkien-esque world-building: I’m talking about those timeless, wonder-filled moments – a scene, an act, a decision – that’s like a punch in the gut, like when Dorothy steps out of her black and white house to the Technicolor Land of Oz.  

“Wow!”

It still delivers after all these years.Recently, I was listening to the audio book of Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber.  This is a book that my friends and I have read multiple times throughout our high school and college days.  (I even used to be able to tell page numbers when they described or read a passages to me.)  Anyway, it’d been awhile since I’d revisited it.  I’d made it to the part where Corwin, the narrator who has amnesia, has escaped from the hospital where he was being drugged and held against his will, and he’d just been reacquainted with his siblings Flora and Random. 

Okay, if you’ve not read it, here’s the big concept: Amber is a city, the one true world, and the shadows it casts create a multitude of worlds, including our own.  The royalty of Amber can “shift,” or travel through and manipulate those shadows, but Corwin, of course, has no memory of this.  Since the story is told from his point of view – and first person at that – the reader has no idea what’s going on either, until Random begins leading Corwin through shadow toward Amber.  And this is my “Wow!” moment, when reality begins to change, subtly at first, and then drastically.  I remember getting up and walking around the room the first time I read it, and listening to it this time brought the same elation.  I just had to stop what I was doing and shake my head and whisper, “wow!”  Honestly, I did.  “Wow!”  It was amazing, utterly amazing.  Again. 

It happens in movies, too, I know, but it’s these special, unforgettable moments that make a book so rewarding and keeps pulling us back to it again and again.    

Anyway, that was mine, what’s yours?  What scene made your heart leap?  Time stop?  Tears well?  Share it with us.  Provide the title, author and a description of the scene, please, and post a pic of the cover, too, if you can.                

Tuesday
Mar232010

What Makes a True Science Fiction Fan?

I sponsor a science fiction and fantasy club at the local high school, but to be quite honest, I’ve done a pretty poor job the past few years.  About ten years ago, the club was one of the most active at school.  We held meetings twice a month, hosted movies after school, held contests so students could win signed books and memorabilia.  Last year, I think I called meetings maybe four or five times and probably the same for the year. 

I always have a big turn out for the initial meeting and sign up, but after that attendance drops off drastically.  I think I had thirty people sign up; five came to the last meeting.  I really believe it’s the survey I have them fill out during the first gathering that scares them off.  I mostly use the survey to get a feel for what the members like and want to do with the club.  I ask them to list their 5 favorite books, movies, and games.  Truth be told, it’s the survey that keeps me from committing to the club the way I used to.

The game column fills up first anymore.  Of course, the names of games changes every year as members want to list the newest games as their favorites.  This column generates the most fervor and excitement.  I created the games list thinking they might put down Dungeons and Dragons or some other paper and pencil rpg.  Nope, not in the last ten years or so anyway.  The only rpgs my members no are computer or console games.  Collectible card games haven’t even made the list in five years. I’ve been playing for over twenty years now so it’s always exciting to discuss things with the next generation.  Even when the 3rd and 4th editions came out, I expected to see a lot of interest generated, but what was there didn’t last very long.  When members started listing nothing but video games, I realized that paper and pencil games were becoming a thing, maybe not of the past, but of a very select audience. 

The new gaming trend saddened me.  Oh, they saw it as great advancement in technology and entertainment, which I do not deny.  What they don’t see is what the new games are doing to them, or rather to their imaginations.  With D&D, we had to immerse ourselves in the game, visualize it, invent it with our thoughts and words.  Video games will not allow that.  Games have taken all the imagination out of play.  You just react to it, not create.

But I let that go.

Movies.  Well, again most members typically put what’s current.  It’s like they have no conception of “past” or “classic.”  I suppose classic is a relative term.  To me the classics mean The Forbidden Planet, The Thing from Another World, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and even Star Wars and Blade Runner.   Star Wars episodes I-III they’ve seen and enjoyed.  They don’t like the original trilogy because the special effects look fake, or even worse, they’ve not even bothered to watch it because it’s “old.”  How do you convince someone that a movie is good because of its story or characters when all she cares about is how the movie looks?  Again, today’s audience seem to focus on the look over substance.  There is no willing suspension of disbelief, only the will to be dazzled. 

Very frustrating, but I let it go.

The book column, however, was the straw that broke this fan’s back.  They don’t read!  Most of them haven’t read a book in their life.  And their proud of it!  The ones that do read, read mostly media tie-ins.  According to the recent crop, the first Halo book is the best book ever written.  What?  Now, I don’t have anything against media tie-ins.  I’ve read my fair share, but how do you even begin to justify that a Halo book is better than Foundation or Ringworld (both of which my current members have never heard of).  If I’m lucky, I have a few, and not just the girls, that think Twilight, or any of its recent trendy rip offs, is the best book ever.  (Probably the only time I’ve ever missed Anne Rice – but they don’t have a clue who she is either, so what difference does it make?)   When I do manage to convince one of them to check out a book, they don’t read it because it’s boring or it’s confusing or it’s not as good as the movie.  (I, Robot and Starship Troopers are the usual victims of the latter excuse.) 

Am I old fashioned in thinking that, to be a science fiction fan, one must be a fan of its literature?  Seems to me that the whole basis of being a fan began with the stories,   The Lensmen or Fahfrd and the Mouser – there’s too many to think of.  Sadly, all of them are fading from memory.  Of course, publishers aren’t helping.  Where is the Mouser on bookstore shelves?  Where is Doc Smith?  Where’s Burroughs?  We do have great talent putting out great stuff today, so no one can argue that there’s nothing worth reading.  You got McDevitt and Gaiman and Gibson and Card and Martin and Scalzi and on and on.  There’s a lot to love about genre fiction today. 

Am I too demanding?  I personally do not think so.  I refuse to give in on this point.  Fandom began with literature, and to me, to be a true fan you have to read, not necessarily older stuff but read quality to work, the successors to the greats, the ones who followed in the footsteps of the giants and the ones who have made their own. 

So, there’s the root of my club problem.  It’s not that I cannot connect with the new generation, it’s that I don’t consider them true fans.  Science fiction and fantasy literature is a celebration of the imagination.  True fans know that.      

Monday
Jan252010

In Defense of George R.R. Martin

I’ve read lots of stuff complaining and whining about George R.R. Martin’s delays with the next installment in A Song of Fire and Ice.  Some of it’s not very nice at all.  Some of it’s down right hateful and despicable. 

I’ll never forget the first time I discovered the series.  I couldn’t put A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords down.  I drove over three hours to pick up A Feast for Crows and meet Mr. Martin, but I swore not to read it until A Dance with Dragons was released because those two books were originally intended to be a single volume.  So I waited.  And I waited.  And I waited.  Then . . .  I waited some more.  I finally started checking Amazon's and Martin’s websites regularly for updates.  I think it was after the second year of waiting that I decided I would just pick it up when it was finished.  And no, I still haven’t read A Feast for Crows.

Am I frustrated?  Sure.  Am I impatient?  Sometimes – when I think about it too long.  Am I angry?  No.  Mr. Martin has stated that he doesn’t want to turn in anything that doesn’t live up to the project.  Would you, as a reader, want something he didn’t put his heart and soul into?  I can already hear someone saying, “He’s gonna die before he finishes the @#$%&* thing!”   I certainly hope not.  I couldn’t imagine anyone being about to finish the story in the manner Mr. Martin has.  But it’s always a possibility. 

Where will you be next week?  Are you sure?  What if you’re the victim of a fatal accident or a sudden terminal illness?  How do you plan for that?  We don’t.  We plan our lives based on what we expect or hope will happen.  I’m sure Mr. Martin is no different.  A Song of Fire and Ice will probably be his master work.  Why shouldn’t he have the time necessary to make it so?  I believe it was on his website where it was pointed out that J.R.R. Tolkien worked on The Lord of the Rings for decades.  All the time and effort was worth every word. 

Consider this.  You think we’ve had a long wait.  Ever read David Gerrold’s War Against the Chtorr?  It’s an amazing series.  One of the best alien invasion stories I’ve ever read.  The people in it are very real – too real sometimes, just like in Mr. Martin’s, as they are forced to do some extremely bad things sometimes.  Seven books are planned; four have been complete.  The last one, A Season for Slaughter, was published in 1992.  Eighteen years I’ve been waiting to see what happened next.  Eighteen.  Am I frustrated?  Sure.  Am I impatient?  Sometimes.  Am I angry?  No. 

Anyway . . . the next time you get fed up or you decide to create an I Hate George R.R. Martin fan group (I saw one online – honest – I really saw one), pause and think about this: we may be just as responsible for the delay as any other reason.  How would you feel to have thousands of people breathing down you neck, demanding something fantabulously great, right now.  That’s a big demand on anybody.  Fan demand can be just as harmful to an artist as it can be beneficial. 

In the mean time, I’m enjoying the first three books again as I prepare to watch the HBO series.  I will probably go ahead and read A Feast for Crows this time.  Then I will wait ever how long it takes.  Maybe the series will spur Mr. Martin onward, since they plan to do a season per book?  Who knows?  Let the artist create the art.  It’s his work, it’s his property.  He’s just sharing it with us.

Saturday
Aug152009

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolfe?

I have a confession.

I am forty-two years old. I have been reading science fiction and fantasy for at least thirty. In all that time, I’ve read many of the classics, I’ve loyally followed several authors, and I’ve read much stuff of questionable merit. In all that time, however, I have never read anything by Gene Wolfe.

Oh, I knew about him and read much about him and his work. Now that I think about it, that may have been the problem. I’d always heard how his works were “literary” and defied the genre in which they were published. There’s also lots of discussions concerning allegory and religious symbolism, particularly within the volumes comprising The Book of the New Sun. None of this scared me. I’ve read Moby Dick, for crying out loud. And then there’s the use of archaic and exotic words, again mostly within The Book of the New Sun. That didn’t frighten me, either. I’ve read Stephen Donaldson’s The Chronicle of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever – twice. (Yes, I had to keep a college-level dictionary in hand both times.)

I still don’t know what kept me away, unless maybe, it was the “mythic” reputation that surrounded Wolfe’s works. When I’d mention reading any of his stuff to anyone, I would either get a firm “I love it!” or a sudden, almost overwhelmed wash across the poor soul’s face and a half-whispered “couldn’t do it.” It’s not dissimilar to talking about tomes like Moby Dick or The Fountainhead. At one point, about 10 years ago, I bought a used copy of The Shadow of the Torturer. As a fan of SF & F literature, I felt an obligation to try to make it through the book. I had done the same thing with Moby Dick in college. As a Lit. major, I felt I had to read it. After three attempts in about twice that many years, I finally did it and loved it. I felt the same about The Fountainhead. I finally broke down and read it. I quite enjoyed it as well. I don’t know what became of the Wolfe book. I lost track of it on my shelf, and it ultimately vanished entirely from my collection.

I never read it.

Life went on.

Every year, I try to attend two or three SF & F conventions, and one of my favorites is DragonCon. I get giddy with anticipation as the days draw near when they begin releasing their guest list. This year . . . Well, you don’t even have to guess whose name I saw first on the initial list. Let’s just say that when I saw it, I felt something that could only be compared to shame. Then I asked myself how I could call myself a true fan having never read works that have won the World Fantasy Award, the Nebula, the Locus Award.

So I began.

I ordered a second-hand copy of Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer, the first volume of The Book of the New Sun. I’m now over halfway through it, and I love it. I more than love it. It’s one of those books that I look forward to picking up again. I become so absorbed in the tale of Severian, the torturer, I forget that I’m actually reading. Before I had finished the third chapter, I was at my computer ordering the rest of the books.

The language in the book is fluid – like prose poetry at times. And the archaisms do not interfere with the work at all. (Okay, maybe in the first chapter when you’re not used to them.) While reading Donaldson, the words interrupted the flow of reading at times; they seemed more like added speed bumps than part of the road. Not so with Wolfe. If anything, the words add to the atmosphere of the piece. It’s almost as if you can feel the inexorable doom of the world while the red sun hovers in the sky.

Severian’s world is in our far future, yet you can’t help but feel you’re reading a medieval romance. There’re guilds and halberd-carrying guards and walled cities. Occasionally, however, some sort of ship will fly over. There’s talk of traveling among the stars, but that was long, long ago. The distinction between technology and magic no longer exist.

But what’s most remarkable to me is the narrator/protagonist, Severian. He’s a dishonored torturer, who is forced into exile beyond the only world he’s ever known. He is definitely not a typical hero (or anti-hero as today’s trends seem to favor). Besides being a torturer, he’s down-right unreliable. At the beginning of the book, he tells us that he has a perfect memory. Shortly thereafter, however, he states that he is insane. And then he seems to forget when he has told certain information. In one discussion, he even contemplates the fact that lies become truth over time.

So what’s the truth in this story? I don’t know, yet. I may never know, but that’s okay because that’s a powerful message in itself. The tale itself is beautiful and beautifully told. Sometimes that’s enough.

Anyway, I can confidently say that I will finish Wolfe’s wonder-filled The Book of the New Sun, and I’ve a feeling I’ll be reading more, too, like the Books of the Long and Short Sun, the Soldier series, and the Wizard Knight duology. I’m just sorry I waited so long to begin. Gene Wolfe is deserving of every bit of his praise and then some. So, take my advice: there’s nothing to be afraid of.

 

Thursday
Aug132009

Casting for "A Game of Thrones", so far...

 

Casting for HBO's long-form television series A Game of Thrones has moved along quite rapidly since the initial announcement of the casting of Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lanister.

My favorite casting so far is Mark Addy as Robert Baratheon. He has been around a while, but most people are familiar with him as the father on the US sitcom Still Standing and as Dave from "The Full Monty". He should have an easy time playing the hard partying, self-loathing, whore-mongering king of the realm

Sean Bean, an immensely talented actor from Britain, who has already delved into this genre with much fanfare, will be playing the beloved Eddard Stark. This is probably the most important role from the get go since Eddard Stark is really the guy whose actions the books revolve around--especially early on, and casting someone like Bean is a strong sign that HBO is going to pull out all the stops for this series.

Harry Lloyd has been cast as Viserys Targaryen, slimy brother of Daenerys Targaryen. Lloyd is best known for his role in Robin Hood the TV series.

Jennifer Ehle has been cast as Eddard's wife Catelyn Stark. Ehle, a Meryl Streep clone, is probably best known for "Pride and Prejudice" a TV series that she won a BAFTA for in 1996. Again, I think this will be a good casting, though admittedly, I'm not as familiar with her as the other actors I have mentioned. Catelyn will be a hard role to play. She has a lot of grief and will require an intense performance from the actress. I look forward to seeing how she does.

The role of Joffrey Baretheon and John Snow will be taken on by two relatively unknown child actors, Jack Gleeson, with Kit Harrington, respectively. Both are really important parts, particularly that of Jon Snow, who is central to the storylines taking place in the north.

Throw in the fact that George R.R. Martin has announced on his own blog that there have been six more cast members signed but yet to be announced. Of the six, one is Jaime Lannister, another Theon Greyjoy-- two characters that you love then loathe from book to book. I will keep you posted as they are announced. Filming starts in October.