So, hey! I’ve been away for a bit and by away, I mean, generally doing nothing…elsewhere. Uni has been the usual demanding whore it’s always been and just recently my internet spazzed out and I’ve been disconnected for a while. But let’s jump back into it, shall we?
A lot of my commentary of late has been about ‘modern’ fantasy, fantasy that’s hard and fast and gritty and darkly funny. And you may be feeling that I’m neglecting the other sides of fantasy, that I’m ignoring or underrating it. That’s not the case at all. I started writing about the modern fantasy mostly as a guide for the uninitiated because I was tired of this false perception of what is mostly outdated fantasy and I wanted to bring some more attention to the current trend. But I love the old style just as much and I think it’s just as good, at its best.
I still adore the likes of Edding’s Belgarath’s the Sorcerer, Gemmell’s Legend, there’s a lightness and a brevity to them that I enjoy but with just as much of a hefty action punch as today’s work. It’s the style of writing that I can read most — Ted mentioned in the last discussion that this modern style can be done too much and is becoming a cliche of itself and that’s definitely true, I mentioned that I think that happens in Richard Morgan’s ‘The Steel Remains’ –older, and yes, generally involving ideas that have become cliche and that aren’t original but when it’s well written and the characters are wonderfully developed, I find that I really don’t care too much about those things.
There’s a warmth to them that will always bring me back. It’s this old style that I enjoyed most about Martin’s writing to be honest – when it’s all castles and cobblestones, politics and superstition, and magic – Feist’s ‘Magician’ comes to mind, Hobb’s ‘Assassin’s Apprentice’, J. V. Jones ‘The Baker Boy’, Janny Wurts ‘To Ride Hell’s Chasm’, among countless countless others. And there is no way in the world that I could turn away from Lord of the Rings or any similarly written epic.
A lot of the times, I know the way these books are going to end, even as I start them but if the characters are good and I enjoy reading them, if they make me laugh especially, I’ll keep going. I love that and you’d be hard pressed to find any fantasy that I’m against on principle, I promise you, I’m an absolute whore for the stuff. I guess the only strand I don’t read is ‘romance fantasy’…because, well, just because. Although, I do remember reading a series by Laurell. K. Hamilton at some stage, apparently it’s called the Ballantine series and it’s about a modern day detective that is a fey princess or some such. It was actually okay, had some interesting concepts, but it pretty quickly just became porn, which was fine until it became tentacle porn. So, I think I’m justified there.
So, what am I reading now? Well, I’m reading a few things. I was in a book store (Kinokuniya) the other day and randomly came across Jim Butcher’s ‘Captain’s Fury’, book 4 in the Codex Alera series. And I was stunned. It’s been so long since I read the third book, I’d completely forgotten about it. So I snatched it up and was both horrified and gratified to see book five, ‘Princep’s Fury’ right next to it so I grabbed that too. Now, I freely admit I’m behind on this but none of my local book stores have had it, and even though I haven’t had money in a while, I’m always browsing in there to see if a new title has come out. Luckily I was in the city this time and came across these gems.
Jim Butcher pretty much exemplifies what I’m talking about. His storyline is simple, he has enough generic plot lines and elements to make you roll your eyes, but the characterisation is solid, the pace is genuinely phenomenal – when he puts his foot down, the pages start flying – and most of all, it’s just a very, very entertaining read. So I was happy to pick up Captain’s Fury and once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. Of course, I couldn’t remember who half the characters were for a while, it’s been so long, but I eventually found my feet. 🙂
Light, entertaining stuff, but riveting. The last three books have almost exclusively been solid coverage of a war. It is so hard to put his books down and I’ve had an absolute ball. It’s been a while since I read a book as well and I didn’t need anything heavy or anything trying too hard to be new – just some solid, unassuming fantasy and Butcher provided it.
Not great, not brilliant and not very original, but highly highly entertaining. I’ve also been reading the comics ‘Fables’ which is truly terrific and ‘Preacher’ which is beyond brilliant – I highly recommend both. Another book I’ve bought is ‘Shadows Return’ by Lynn Flewelling, a sequel to the Nightrunner’s series of old, that I had no idea about so I’m looking forward to reading that. I also bought Scott. R. Bakker’s ‘The Judgemental Eye’, the first book in the subsequent series to his first, which was the Prince of Nothing. Can’t wait to rip into it.
One other thing I’ll mention here is that I briefly started re-reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Now, I never did finish it to begin with, I only got to bk 2, but someone asked me for an opinion on it, so I thought what the hey, I’ll give it a shot.
King really is an anomaly – the man is a brilliant, brilliant storyteller. His concepts are fantastic, they’re different and interesting and I can’t get enough of it but his writing is almost always crap. I just don’t understand why. His prose is so bland and blehy. I mean, really, how hard is it for an editor to smack some sense into him? What gets me, even beyond that though, is his foreword. His non-fiction writing if you will, is wonderful. When it’s just him, talking to you as Stephen King, it’s wonderful. It’s fresh, engaging, flows well, isn’t overbearing or boring in any sense of the word. Just him.
But then the book begins and King shifts into his writerly mode, and it all turns to shit. This series, thus far, has to be his best and that’s because he is trying so hard, putting such a concerted effort into paring everything back. He has to for the traditional Western landscape and story he’s trying to evoke. Now, as with most of his work, I adore the concept, I think it’s bursting at the seams with potential but again, I find his writing hard to get through, the prose is just a bit too clunky.
But it’s more than that as well, it feels contrived. He’s trying too hard for the Western feel, the effort is too obvious and a true Western isn’t so self-conscious; it’s too old for that, too beaten down and raw, the age, the dust, the blood and the horror should seep from the pages and at times, you get flashes of that but mostly, I found myself too much on the outer, watching King try to pull it off and not enough engaged in the narrative.
But there’s enough there from this outset for me to keep going, to persevere with it. What do you guys think of King? Are we at complete odds once more? Should I keep going with this series?
And beyond that, what have you been reading?