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The Bankrupt Nihilism of Our Fallen Fantasists
February 16, 2011 8:19 AM   Subscribe

"I don’t particularly care for fantasy per se. What I actually cherish is something far more rare: the elevated prose poetry, mythopoeic subcreation, and thematic richness that only the best fantasy achieves, and that echoes in important particulars the myths and fables of old. This realization eliminates, at a stroke, virtually everything written under the banner of fantasy today."
posted by never used baby shoes (203 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ah, finally, a take-down of contemporary fantasy literature ...

Alas, I haven’t read it

Oh. But you read one previous book by the author and feel like it doesn't live up to the Catholic technophobia of Tolkein and the violent and occasionally deranged pulp of Howard.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:23 AM on February 16, 2011 [12 favorites]


I couldn't get past the part where someone on breitbart.com is accusing someone else of bankruptcy.
posted by DU at 8:24 AM on February 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


So... I'm guessing not a big fan of The Last Ringbearer then.

And you know, it's not like Tolkien or Howard is ever going to go away. If you're so offended by modern fantasy, just reread LOTR ten thousand times.

Not to say that "edgy" fantasy is always good, There's just as much crap there as there is in any genre.

And finally, Pratchett. Yes, that name alone should end any discussion on whether modern fantasy is any good.
posted by kmz at 8:28 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Those damn college-educated liberals. Deconstructing mythopoeic subcreation like it's nobody's business.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:29 AM on February 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


Obviously his point is a tad exaggerated, but I mostly agree with him. There's something refreshingly honest about going back and reading Howard, that new authors just can't reach. And the anti-hero thing in our media is indeed getting old, although I'm suspicious that there's probably an invisible pendulum swinging; we're notoriously short sighted that way. If high fantasy dominates the genre again, some clever chap will discover the anti-hero again in ten years and be praised for it.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:30 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Considering the source, maybe he should instead read Atlas Shrugged ten thousand times.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:30 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


"In my opinion, This realization eliminates for me, anyway, at a stroke, virtually everything written under the banner of fantasy as I understand it today."

Ahhh... much better...
posted by Debaser626 at 8:30 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Think of a Lord of the Rings where, after stringing you along for thousands of pages, all of the hobbits end up dying of cancer contracted by their proximity to the Ring, Aragorn is revealed to be a buffoonish puppet-king of no honor and false might, and Gandalf no sooner celebrates the defeat of Sauron than he executes a long-held plot to become the new Dark Lord of Middle-earth...

Ok, I'm thinking! I'm thinking! I haven't read Adercrombie yet, either, but now I really want to! Tell me more!

...and you have some idea of what to expect should you descend into Abercrombie’s jaded literary sewer.

Uh-oh. Someone's judgment just got called into question...
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:31 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


China Mieville exists. Leo Grin's argument is invalid.

(not that someone posting on breitbart.com would appreciate Mieville, of course. The intensely thoughtful politics and staunch devotion to accurate description of social relations would likely put him right off)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:31 AM on February 16, 2011 [15 favorites]


summary: "these books about elves are not to my satisfaction."

okay, dude. noted.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:32 AM on February 16, 2011 [25 favorites]


Wait, Andrew Breitbart? THAT Andrew Breitbart?
posted by Naberius at 8:33 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The quoted section above suggests that the author's problem with contemporary fantasy is that "it's all crap now," an annoyingly ignorant proposition which seems easy enough to refute.

But upon further reading, his article actually seems to be complaining that contemporary fantasy no longer features the simple good/evil dichotomies and archetypal heroes/villains and glorification of war that the great fantasy of old offered.

Instead, the new fantasy offers complicated, ambiguous readings, with complicated characters who are neither fully good nor bad, whose motivations are complex. Depicting these complicated characters with their complicated motivations, begins to unpack the whole good/evil idea itself, challenge preconceptions, even question whether heroic war is actually heroic, and deconstructs the simplistic assumptions behind the mythologies that fueled adolescent fantasies.

Okay, Leo Grin, I was all set to defend fantasy, but, uh... you got me there.
posted by crackingdes at 8:34 AM on February 16, 2011 [20 favorites]


Oh lord. I didn't realize this was on a site run by a Washington Times dude. Now it all makes so much more sense.
posted by kmz at 8:35 AM on February 16, 2011


Wait, Andrew Breitbart? THAT Andrew Breitbart?

Okay, that would explain the weird comments section, recommending the Gor series as refreshing and everyone rushing to proclaim themselves "not feminists."
posted by gladly at 8:36 AM on February 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


Trigger warning: Andrew Breitbart's website.
posted by andreaazure at 8:37 AM on February 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


I am astounded. astounded! that this person is suggesting that different books written by people in drastically different time periods are not clones of what has come before. Everybody knows that genre conventions are completely inflexible and certainly, narrative styles and techniques never fluctuate in popularity.

But seriously? He wants swords & sorcery, there's plenty quality S&S being written and published today. They just generally aren't discussed by "critics" too often. Anyway, back to the latest Patricia McKillip for me this fine, sunny morning...
posted by Mizu at 8:37 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ahahahaha, Leo Grin was a huge fan of that crappy Kirk Cameron evangelical movie.

OK, now the picture fully resolves itself.
posted by kmz at 8:38 AM on February 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


Someone should try to convince him that Piers Anthony's Xanth books are the kind of high fantasy he loves; with any luck, his attempt to verify this will result in literary self-lobotomization.
posted by COBRA! at 8:38 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Alas, I haven’t read it

If only I could go back in time and do the same for this article.
posted by Fizz at 8:39 AM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Tolkien? Pfff.
posted by Artw at 8:40 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


China Mieville exists. Leo Grin's argument is invalid.

Yes, China Mieville exists. The City & The City was great, but that's not really a fantasy book.

Perdido Street Station is a fantasy book. A terrible one.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:43 AM on February 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


Someone devoted that amount of writing about fantasy and nihilism and complaining of the lack of prose poetry and mythopoeic creation... and didn't once mention Donaldson and his Thomas Covenant books (of which the final final, completely final volume is being written RIGHT NOW)???

I'd say the lad doesn't really know what he's talking about, then.
posted by hippybear at 8:43 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I like that in the comments someone almost immediately mentions both Pratchett's Discworld and Glen Cook's Black Company series.

Because I simply can't complain about the quality of fantasy writing when these series exist. And while I've heard Discworld dismissed as satire, I think that if you dig enough, you'll find that it has become a complete universe populated with well rounded characters who are surrounded by moral uncertainty.


Also, elves are fucking evil. Fantasy books should make that clear rather than celebrating them.
posted by quin at 8:43 AM on February 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


"The bankrupt nihilism of fallen fantasists" is a pretty good description of Big Hollywood.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:43 AM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Having just finished Abercrombie's first series, some thoughts:

First, he is right, in that this is not standard heroic fantasy. If you want to read heroic fantasy, you can always go back to the Belgariad, or even the Wheel of Time. Both have orphaned boys discovered by powerful magic users who need to fight the Dark Lord. Harry Potter is not too dissimilar. They are fun series, and I grew up on them.

But, honestly, the formula is fun, but they are formula nonetheless. As a result, these books have little lasting impact besides giving you an abiding love of elves. But, if you know epic fantasy, reading George R. R. Martin, or Abercrombie, or Brandon Sanderson is positively refreshing and quite powerful. Just like the best SF uses the science fiction components as icing for human interaction, the new fantasy does the same. There is a reason that comic books have moved beyond simple morality tales, and there is a reason fantasy has done so as well.

That being said, when done badly (I'm looking at you, Red Skies at Morning), the dark fantasy genre is painful and full of blood and awfulness. And really, George R. R. Martin, do I have to hate every character, can't I like one of them? Excess exists is both versions of the genre.
posted by blahblahblah at 8:45 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Think of a Lord of the Rings where, after stringing you along for thousands of pages, all of the hobbits end up dying of cancer contracted by their proximity to the Ring, Aragorn is revealed to be a buffoonish puppet-king of no honor and false might, and Gandalf no sooner celebrates the defeat of Sauron than he executes a long-held plot to become the new Dark Lord of Middle-earth

Hang on, that sounds pretty great. Might have to pick up Abercrombie's latest. (The LotR, which I mostly read because it was de rigueur for nerdy 11 year olds in the 1980s to do so, put me off fantasy for life - the 'heroes' seemed such complete, utter dickheads that a surprise cancer twist would've been most welcome.)
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 8:45 AM on February 16, 2011


Hang on, that sounds pretty great. Might have to pick up Abercrombie's latest.

Please do so. Also, find George R.R. Martin, Scott Lynch, Steven Erikson, & Patrick Rothfuss.
posted by Fizz at 8:47 AM on February 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


Because I simply can't complain about the quality of fantasy writing when these series exist. And while I've heard Discworld dismissed as satire, I think that if you dig enough, you'll find that it has become a complete universe populated with well rounded characters who are surrounded by moral uncertainty.

Yeah, if you don't mind that he keeps rewriting the same damn book.

/derail
posted by Leon at 8:47 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also the rap parody in Soul Music pretty much represented the point at which I could rightly say I enjoyed reading Discworld books.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:50 AM on February 16, 2011


I don't like it so it must be shit. Great argument. For a playground.
posted by londonmark at 8:50 AM on February 16, 2011


Here's the key points in the article that I agree with ...

Edgy? Nah, just punk kids farting in class and getting some giggles from the other mouth-breathers.

In other words, edginess without knowing where the edges really are. Edginess without authenticity. Picasso could paint realistic figures if he wanted to. He just chose not to.

How soon we forget that some of the early work of J.R.R. Tolkien ... was penned while he sat in the trenches of World War I, even while most his closest friends were being killed.

In other words, writing that is informed by experience. Tolkien was a soldier and a scholar; Howard, an amateur boxer and made his living by writing pulp fiction. They went around the block a few times.

Neither of them went to a Renaissance fair and sat in a junior-college writing workshop. They lived first and wrote second, and weren't exactly patted on the head for their "creative spirit."

---

I've been thinking about this more and more recently ... that it seems that many people today don't know what it's really like to lose. You need to know what it's like to really go out there and fail at something before you're fully human.

And the prevalence of niche publishing and micro-publishing and self-publishing means that you'll rarely run into a situation where someone looks at your work and goes, "You know what? Your writing sucks. I'm not going to pay for this, and I'm not going to help you create it or release it. Get out of my office."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:51 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


The LotR, which I mostly read because it was de rigueur for nerdy 11 year olds in the 1980s to do so, put me off fantasy for life - the 'heroes' seemed such complete, utter dickheads that a surprise cancer twist would've been most welcome.

Are you really poo-poohing an entire huge swath of 20th and 21st genre lit because your 11-year-old self thought Aragorn was an asshole?
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:51 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, if you don't mind that he keeps rewriting the same damn book.

I was going to snark but instead I'm going to genuinely ask: what the fuck? You're going to tell me that Jingo, Going Postal, Small Gods, Night Watch, The Thief of Time, Lords and Ladies, Reaper Man, Amazing Maurice, and Wee Free Men are all the "same book"? To name a few examples off the top of my head.
posted by kmz at 8:52 AM on February 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


Someone devoted that amount of writing about fantasy and nihilism and complaining of the lack of prose poetry and mythopoeic creation... That's not really what he's writing about, though.

Here's the meat of the article:
Soiling the building blocks and well-known tropes of our treasured modern myths is no different than other artists taking a crucifix and dipping it in urine, covering it in ants, or smearing it with feces. In the end, it’s just another small, pathetic chapter in the decades-long slide of Western civilization into suicidal self-loathing. It’s a well-worn road: bored middle-class creatives (almost all of them college-educated liberals) living lives devoid of any greater purpose inevitably reach out for anything deemed sacred by the conservatives populating any artistic field. They co-opt the language, the plots, the characters, the cliches, the marketing, and proceed to deconstruct it all like a mad doctor performing an autopsy. Then, using cynicism, profanity, scatology, dark humor, and nihilism, they put it back together into a Frankenstein’s monster designed to shock, outrage, offend, and dishearten.
In Other Words:

Godless Liberals are attacking Our Sacred Myths! By doing so, the liberals are destroying Western Civilization! It's A War on Christmas Fantasy! How Dare They? LIBERALS! *snarls, shakes fist*
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:52 AM on February 16, 2011 [26 favorites]


pastabagel: Perdido Street Station is a fantasy book. A terrible one

I'd say that the first half of it is really, really good, the latter half is rather overplotted, if you ask me. The Scar and, especially, The Iron Council, however, I'd recommend unreservedly. The Iron Council is my favorite Miéville book (yes, I've read The City & the City).

I have no time (literally) for multi-volume fantasy epics anymore. I like my series to be standalone novels (e.g. Discworld).
posted by Kattullus at 8:56 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here's another take from J.K. Rowling on writing fantasy for mainstream readers: Stop writing for the grognards.

[J.K. Rowling]'s clever instinct, the editor said, was to postpone the point where you need to learn a complex background in order to continue following the story. By then you would have absorbed so many small, easy-to-learn, easy-to-digest details that when you finally got to the Big Lesson, it wasn't intimidating.

I imagine it's like moving to some exotic foreign country. You land in their capital and they say, "To buy food here, you must recite the names of the Emperors of the Fourteenth Dynasty." You'd starve to death before you had time to memorize them all.

...

People like us are eager to crack the code of a science fiction or fantasy novel by learning about all the complicated background necessary to understand it. But the other 90% of the audience gets so annoyed by the homework.

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:56 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wish I could take all the disillusioned fantasy fans out there, like this guy, and just drop a few names that will change their literary lives. I want make a huge argument for them, but... here. I'll even get you started with titles. From most important to least.

Lord Dunsany, "The King of Elfland's Daughter."
John Crowley, "Little, Big."
George MacDonald, "Phantastes." (Or "Lilith." I can never decide.)

An admirable modern effort: Neil Gaiman, "Stardust."

Fair warning, if you choose to explore: your heart will be broken with indescribably sadness and joy. At the same time. It's really quite excruciating.
posted by gilrain at 8:59 AM on February 16, 2011 [18 favorites]


Fuzzy Monster beat me to it. I got to that point and said "Oh, that's where he's going." Pretty standard conservatism, no? The old ways are better?

To be continued. . . . .

What?! No. Stop.

More recommendations, please. I haven't read good fantasy in while myself.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:04 AM on February 16, 2011


I just finished Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy. I can't speak to its quality, since fantasy epics are not something I read for their literary value, but the whole deconstructing-the-hero thing is done really well there. A lot of the dark-fantasy stuff is edgy like a nu-metal album is edgy. Sanderson isn't like that: he builds his plot around serious ideas about how societies and cultures actually function in the presence of fantasy tropes, and as a historian-in-training I'm very impressed with the way he sketches out institutional power dynamics. (The inquisitor-obligator conflict in particular.)

That said, it does suffer from the very common tendency to telescope everything from Ancient Rome to the Enlightenment into a past that is superficially supposed to represent Europe circa 1250. Basically, the arms and armor are medieval, but everything else, lacking a well-defined historical marker, is blatantly anachronistic. Dungeons and Dragons tends to have this problem too.
posted by nasreddin at 9:04 AM on February 16, 2011


Heh. I actually started on The Heroes this week. The First Law Trilogy was pretty good, but I do sort of agree with him about the ending. But then again, the gloomy ending was sort of the entire point of the series, which was to some degree a takedown of the "classic" fantasy* he seems to like. Yeah, maybe following some old dude in a robe on a quest for glory might not be the best idea. And maybe, just maybe, that old due who claims to be a thousand year old wizard doesn't have "give a shit about normal people" on his agenda.

The first Abercrombie I read was Best Served Cold which was great, a fantasy cross between Kill Bill and a Jacobean revenge play. I also enjoy Scott Lynch's Locke Lamora (holy crap, the 3rd book comes out tomorrow), Cook's Black Company (although the later books did drag a bit), and of course, Songs of Ice and Fire.

I guess to me, a good fantasy story is about people with fantastic abilities behaving like the flawed people we are. Fantastic power combined with fantastic morality and certainty just doesn't do it for me. Even my favorite fantasy book, Bridge of Birds, has no ultimate good or evil in its winding, lighthearted tale.

The fantasy this dude wants exists and is out there. Just delve into the Kindle-only fantasy section on Amazon and you'll find a slew of people straight up writing the tale of their most recent D&D game (David Dalglish's Half-Orcs, I'm looking at you). As someone who has read most, if not all, of those Forgotten Realms paperbacks that were shot out of a cannon deep into Waldenbooks by TSR in the early 90s, I still have a fondness for stories of Dirk Cleanteeth questing to get the Sword of Wonders in order to defeat the evil Baron d'Blud. It's just hard to go back to that sort of thing after reading a more complex take on swords and sorcery.

* - It should be noted, of course, the Conan was a usurper, thief, and pirate, so pointing to him as an example of black and white Heroism and not mottled in shades of gray is prolly not the best idea.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:05 AM on February 16, 2011 [13 favorites]


General rule of thumb... 90% of everything is crap. Having said that, there are a lot of interesting and good books that fall into the "fantasy" category (must... not... devolve into the hating sub-genera screed), into "magic realism" "slipstream" ... wtf-ever category. Seriously the piece just read like a "Kids these days... get off my fucking lawn!!!" So... he likes Tolkien and Howard. and not much else. Pretty dull conversationalist then.
posted by edgeways at 9:07 AM on February 16, 2011


and Swanwick's books are pretty damn good.
posted by edgeways at 9:07 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Iron Council, however, I'd recommend unreservedly. The Iron Council is my favorite Miéville book

Wow, did we ever have different takes on that. I found it overbearing with message and meaning and significance. I'm not a fan of plots structured as a Marxist dialetic, I guess. The City and the City works for me because he dialed that back.
posted by bonehead at 9:08 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Perdido Street Station is a mess, a fantastic glorious mess. I'd thoroughly recommend it, though The Scar is probably better for having a little more cohesion.
posted by Artw at 9:08 AM on February 16, 2011


"You know what? Your writing sucks. I'm not going to pay for this, and I'm not going to help you create it or release it. Get out of my office."

Brings back memories of that first valentine card I ever made for my mommy.

*sob*
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:10 AM on February 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


"The bankrupt nihilism of fallen fantasists" is a pretty good description of Big Hollywood.

"The bankrupt nihilism of fallen fantasists" is a pretty good metafilter user name. Somebody grab it quick!
posted by mcstayinskool at 9:10 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Patrick Rothfuss

Has Rothfuss published anything besides the first third of a (really awesome) novel? I really liked The Name of the Wind, but it didn’t feel like a completed work.

I really enjoyed the first two books of the Inheritance Trilogy by NK Jemisin, but I’m not sure if this guy wants to read fantasy novels from a brown woman's point of view.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:11 AM on February 16, 2011


The one thing I really like about The Iron Council is that Judah isn't a better magician than everyone else due to having greater "power", or whatever you'd call it, but because he's more imaginative than them.
posted by dng at 9:12 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a little suprised by the lack of C.S. Lewis, or anything much assides from Howard or Tolkien as if their works sprang out of nowhere - on the other hand I get the impression he doesn't read much. I sort of doubt he's read much Howard, TBH.

Elric would blow his fucking mind.
posted by Artw at 9:15 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really liked Richard (K) Morgan's The Steel Remains. Another deconstruction of a standard fantasy hero. It also reminded me of that old Ellen Kushner masterpiece Swordspoint.

On the bleaker side, I don't think KJ Parker gets enough love.
posted by bonehead at 9:15 AM on February 16, 2011


Heh. I though Iron Council was a bigger mess than Perdito, to be honest.
posted by Artw at 9:16 AM on February 16, 2011


Also, I encourage everyone to read the article Smallville is Breaking My Heart linked to in the top right of the page. "Is it Smellville or Obamaville!" the article's second comment asks.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:16 AM on February 16, 2011


Has Rothfuss published anything besides the first third of a (really awesome) novel? I really liked The Name of the Wind, but it didn’t feel like a completed work.

The sequel is coming out next month.
posted by something something at 9:17 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does anybody believe for a *moment* that this guy would have approved of Robert E. Howard if he wasn't already considered a "classic" just by virtue of the passage of time?

If this conservative shitball were writing in the '20s and '30s he would be hating on Howard just as hard as he's loving on him now.

I hated this bad enough when it was linked to on the Blog that Time Forgot (which is usually excellent, but suffers from kneejerk hostility to anybody hating on Howard -- which isn't so bad -- and kneejerk enthusiasm for anybody complimenting Howard -- which in this case led them to side with this jerk.)
posted by edheil at 9:18 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


"The bankrupt nihilism of fallen fantasists" is a pretty good description of Big Hollywood.

You know, I am straight up stealing that as a subtitle for my first novel. It's exactly what I want to write.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:20 AM on February 16, 2011




I really liked Richard (K) Morgan's The Steel Remains. Another deconstruction of a standard fantasy hero.



I liked it, for what it did, although I didn't enjoy it overly much.

Here's what impressed me: He actually placed his hero in a social context and wrapped it in political commentary, without abandoning all of the tropes of the genre. It was refreshing after reading dozens of novels where authors thought they were clever for writing fantasy novels where people died, or where heroes did "bad things."

It's been a long time since I was impressed by the inclusion of an anti-hero, and I don't really see how it's deconstructing or challenging anything at this point. It's just more copy and pasting in a fairly shallow genre.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:21 AM on February 16, 2011


Here's another take from J.K. Rowling on writing fantasy for mainstream readers: Stop writing for the grognards.

[J.K. Rowling]'s clever instinct, the editor said, was to postpone the point where you need to learn a complex background in order to continue following the story. By then you would have absorbed so many small, easy-to-learn, easy-to-digest details that when you finally got to the Big Lesson, it wasn't intimidating.


Funny, I thought that the editor quoted here was setting up a preposterously false dichotomy between BIG MASSIVE HARD SF STYLE INFODUMP and more subtle world building. You can have the latter without writing specifically for an audience of people who hate fantasy or sci-fi. I mean, just ask Jo Walton.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:21 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Half the descriptions of things he hates sound exactly like Howard.

Well, anyway, he's succeeded in getting me to want to read a bunch of books in a genre I usually ignore, that's good I guess.
posted by Artw at 9:21 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I wish I could take all the disillusioned fantasy fans out there, like this guy, and just drop a few names that will change their literary lives. I want make a huge argument for them, but... here. I'll even get you started with titles. From most important to least.

Lord Dunsany, "The King of Elfland's Daughter."
John Crowley, "Little, Big."
George MacDonald, "Phantastes." (Or "Lilith." I can never decide.)


Yes. Absolutely yes. A lot of modern fantasy is terrible, but not for the reasons the article laid forth. A good antidote to the watered down Tolkein-alikes are gilrain's suggestions.

Also, I recently read Michael Shea's Nift the Lean and ... holy crap. Holy crap.
posted by Amanojaku at 9:22 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Iron Council is definetly one of my favourites, but surely nothing this guy would enjoy. I'm surprised that he doesn't like Sanderson, I would've guessed a mormon homophobe might be just down his alley

One fantasy work that no one seems to have mentioned yet is R. Scott Bakkers Prince Of Nothing triology, probably my favorite of the genre-deconstructing fantasy books out there.
posted by ts;dr at 9:22 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Think of a Lord of the Rings where, after stringing you along for thousands of pages, all of the hobbits end up dying of cancer contracted by their proximity to the Ring, Aragorn is revealed to be a buffoonish puppet-king of no honor and false might, and Gandalf no sooner celebrates the defeat of Sauron than he executes a long-held plot to become the new Dark Lord of Middle-earth, and you have some idea of what to expect should you descend into Abercrombie’s jaded literary sewer.

Like a lot of conservatives, this dude seems to pine for an idealized past where men were men, women were women, young people respected their elders and books had happy endings where the good guys won and there were no messy ambiguities.

Also, apples/books - oranges/movies, I know, but that also sounds like a way better ending than the Hobbit Pillow Party we got in the movies.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:25 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Instead, the new fantasy offers complicated, ambiguous readings, with complicated characters who
> are neither fully good nor bad, whose motivations are complex. Depicting these complicated
> characters with their complicated motivations, begins to unpack the whole good/evil idea itself,
> challenge preconceptions, even question whether heroic war is actually heroic, and deconstructs
> the simplistic assumptions behind the mythologies that fueled adolescent fantasies.

In other words, modern fantasy is just like everyday life. Edgar Rice Burroughs wept.
posted by jfuller at 9:26 AM on February 16, 2011


And really, George R. R. Martin, do I have to hate every character, can't I like one of them?

Tell me you hate Arya, and we will have Words, my friend.
posted by cereselle at 9:27 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Arya in her Lisa Simpson phase was a little bit grating.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:30 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seconding Bonehead - KJ Parker is a delight. Pick up the engineer trilogy for 10 to 30 hours of a great ride, depending on your reading speed.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 9:30 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Think of a Lord of the Rings where, after stringing you along for thousands of pages, all of the hobbits end up dying of cancer contracted by their proximity to the Ring, Aragorn is revealed to be a buffoonish puppet-king of no honor and false might, and Gandalf no sooner celebrates the defeat of Sauron than he executes a long-held plot to become the new Dark Lord of Middle-earth

Well, you know, the end of LOTR does have Frodo and Bilbo essentially dying of cancer (used up and spit out by the poisonous malignancy of the ring), and Gandalf, for reasons I don't quite recall, leaves Middle Earth with them, never to return.

Meanwhile, from the article:

It’s a well-worn road: bored middle-class creatives (almost all of them college-educated liberals) living lives devoid of any greater purpose inevitably reach out for anything deemed sacred by the conservatives populating any artistic field. They co-opt the language, the plots, the characters, the cliches, the marketing, and proceed to deconstruct it all like a mad doctor performing an autopsy. Then, using cynicism, profanity, scatology, dark humor, and nihilism, they put it back together into a Frankenstein’s monster designed to shock, outrage, offend, and dishearten.

Now that's what I call provocation, all the stronger for the shards of accuracy int contains. That is, drop the liberal-conservative bullshit and I more or less agree, certainly with regard to the so-called "sword + sorcery" arm of fantasy that has sprung up in the wake of LOTR, not that I've read much of it. Someone mentioned Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Convenant books above. I got through two volumes of that and finally just put it down like it was toxic. Self-loathing protagonist and high heroic fantasy DO NOT MIX. Not in my brain anyway.

As for Terry Pratchett's stuff, well that's its own genre as far as I'm concerned -- a genuinely magical place where the humor of M. Python finds genuine fusion with the great fantasists of old.
posted by philip-random at 9:31 AM on February 16, 2011


bonehead: Wow, did we ever have different takes on that. I found it overbearing with message and meaning and significance. I'm not a fan of plots structured as a Marxist dialetic, I guess.

What I really like about The Iron Council is that Miéville employs as his structure a different myth than that of the returning king, the myth of the revolution. It works for me because, unlike the myth of the returning king, the revolution is a myth I believe in to some degree (with reason, look at Egypt and Tunisia, for crying out loud) though a good part of me is forever pessimistic that things can change much for the better. If anything, the fault I find in The Iron Council is that Miéville romanticizes revolutionaries (to a degree) while being overly pessimistic about revolution as an engine for social change. That said, I think he deals with popular revolution in a fantasy world with perspicuity and intelligence.

Also, unlike most fantasy novels I've read, I can imagine interacting with Miéville's characters. I could have a conversation with Judah, for instance. Actually, now that I think of it, Tolkien has some of that as well, especially his hobbits. One of the undervalued elements of Tolkien's world-building is that he gives his characters hobbies and interests.
posted by Kattullus at 9:32 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I found The Iron Council too boring to finish. I loved, however, Perdido Street Station and The Scar. It's interesting to me how polarizing Mieville's books are. Even the people who like him disagree wildly on which of his books are the best.
posted by something something at 9:34 AM on February 16, 2011


Steven Erikson

Seriously. I read the first of the Malazan books maybe a year ago, and spent the rest of the year reading the next 8, one after another, with no other author in between. No series has grabbed me like that before.I had gotten a little sick of fantasy, but good god these books are sprawling. The scope of the series is unbelievable, in regards to both geography and history. My wife actually read each one in turn as I finished. At first I was two books ahead, but soon I started feeling a lot of pressure to read faster because she was, you know, waiting.

That said, I have lent the first book to three friends and none of them liked it. The consensus seemed to be that they didn't enjoy being dropped into the middle of a story with a long time-line and and ton of characters with almost no context. I happen to love that shit, so your enjoyment may depend on what type of story you like.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 9:34 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't help but expect that this guy also gets mad when people point out that Ronald Reagan wasn't a flawless epic hero who, working solo, defeated Evil Communism in single combat.

It's weird to me how the split between "need to worship flawless heroes" versus "cynically question leaders' motives and outcomes" maps onto politics and literature and movies and comics and, well, everything.
posted by COBRA! at 9:35 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, I recently read Michael Shea's Nift the Lean and ... holy crap. Holy crap.

Not Nift: Nifft. And definitely not Niffft, 'cause that would be silly.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:36 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, unlike most fantasy novels I've read, I can imagine interacting with Miéville's characters. I could have a conversation with Judah, for instance. Actually, now that I think of it, Tolkien has some of that as well, especially his hobbits. One of the undervalued elements of Tolkien's world-building is that he gives his characters hobbies and interests.

But on the other hand, I once had a big realization that I wouldn't want to hang out with anyone in any of Tolkien's books (well, maybe Smaug). Think of how rare it is for anybody to tell a joke! Sam, occasionally, and maybe Gandalf. And even then the jokes are pretty stiff.
posted by COBRA! at 9:38 AM on February 16, 2011


Also: I read Perdido Street Station because of you, metafilter. I hate you for that and I want the wasted time back. The story was ok, but the prose was just so awful. I fought to get through it because everybody else seemed to think it was great, but it just kept getting worse.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 9:38 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thank heaven for MetaFilter. I certainly not going to waste my time reading anything published by Andrew Breitbart, but this is a topic in which I have a strong interest. This thread has been very enlightening. Bravo, MeFites.

(Mieville's City and the City is his best, and I shall have fisticuffs with anyone who disagrees. So there!)
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 9:40 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been thinking about this more and more recently ... that it seems that many people today don't know what it's really like to lose. You need to know what it's like to really go out there and fail at something before you're fully human.

Wow. I remember seeing an amazing young blues guitarist on a talent show [it might have even been Nathan Cavaleri*]. He would have been about 10 years old, tops. After the performance one of the judges basically said "Best guitarist I've ever seen for your age, however... you've never been in love and had your heart broken, have you? Until that time you will never be a truly great blues guitarist."

Harsh. Fair? I dunno, I'm not a musician. But cool papa bell sounded like he was channelling the spirit of that judge in his comment.

*He began playing at the age of six after using a full-sized guitar with a shaved neck (to accommodate smaller hands). At the age of nine he played with Mark Knopfler, who described his playing as "unbelievable". Later he was trained by, and at age thirteen, eventually toured with, B.B. King.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:47 AM on February 16, 2011


Not Nift: Nifft. And definitely not Niffft, 'cause that would be silly.

Next you'll tell me you don't want my recommendation for Glen Cok either.
posted by Amanojaku at 9:51 AM on February 16, 2011


COBRA!: Think of how rare it is for anybody to tell a joke!

Really? Characters joke all the time. Gollum, for instance, though his jokes tend to be of the making-fun-of kind. There's plenty of japery in the Shire chapters and Tom Bombadil is a essentially a comic interlude who even jokes around with the One Ring. The novel does get progressively darker as it wears on (the ending is only really happy in comparison with what immediately precedes it) and the jokes start to get more sparse.

I'm not saying that it's full of hilarious jokes, it's not a comedy, but the characters kid around quite a bit.
posted by Kattullus at 9:52 AM on February 16, 2011


Of course not. Glen Cok is way too peaty.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:53 AM on February 16, 2011


Wailing her woe, the widow old,
her hair upbound, for Beowulf’s death
sung in her sorrow, and said full oft
she dreaded the doleful days to come,
deaths enow, and doom of battle,
and shame. -- The smoke by the sky was devoured.
It's a crying shame because he starts off on a good foot by recognizing the existence of Howard, a man who's often neglected in the hagiography of Tolkien as the alpha and omega of the genre. But then he spoils it with the usual cultural-conservative reactionary moral judgement. But what do you expect, it's a site devoted to griping that the entertainment industry is a liberal cesspool.

Cool Papa Bell: In other words, writing that is informed by experience. Tolkien was a soldier and a scholar; Howard, an amateur boxer and made his living by writing pulp fiction. They went around the block a few times.

Well, for all of Tolkien's experience in the Great War, both The Hobbit and LotR come off as being very prim, Victorian, and Bowdlerized. Sexuality is probably the biggest thing he pushed to appendices that he was reluctant to write or see attached to his novels, but Aragorn is not Beowulf to kill his foes barehanded by ripping out their arms either. Contrast that to Hemmingway or Remarque who were also veterans but much less saccharine about the brutality of warfare.

The literary traditions from which fantasy draws its inspiration are incredibly dark, violent, and loaded with characters with ambiguous motivations. The seduction of Helen by Paris sends both the Greeks and Trojans into a tragic cataclysm of self-destruction and crimes committed in the name of winning. Hamlet and Macbeth are manipulated by their flawed human nature and supernatural forces into committing crimes that are worse than the original motivation. Beowulf dies and the woman wails foreseeing the destruction of her people at the hands of their enemies. It's no surprise that the early psychoanalysts turned to greek myth for terms to describe the darker aspects of human psychology and sexuality.

And what's funny about this is that contemporary fantasy is often quite justifiably criticized for implicit conservatism and ethnocentrism.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:53 AM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


deconstructing the hero is nothing new - i guess this guy's never heard of fritz leiber or james branch cabell, who was as cynical, even nihilistic, as any of the moderns are
posted by pyramid termite at 9:56 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Really? Characters joke all the time. Gollum, for instance, though his jokes tend to be of the making-fun-of kind. There's plenty of japery in the Shire chapters and Tom Bombadil is a essentially a comic interlude who even jokes around with the One Ring. The novel does get progressively darker as it wears on (the ending is only really happy in comparison with what immediately precedes it) and the jokes start to get more sparse.

I'm not saying that it's full of hilarious jokes, it's not a comedy, but the characters kid around quite a bit.
posted by Kattullus


I see where you're coming from; I guess I would've been more accurate of I'd said "told a joke I'd want to hear." The jokes are generally so tweedy that, as far as my brain's concerned, they're not there.

Which isn't to say that I think Tolkien should've written a comedy- just that, as fond as I am of it, Lord of the Rings is full of people I wouldn't want to spend any time with. I don't pretend that's any sort of absolute, objective statement, though.
posted by COBRA! at 10:00 AM on February 16, 2011


One fantasy work that no one seems to have mentioned yet is R. Scott Bakkers Prince Of Nothing triology, probably my favorite of the genre-deconstructing fantasy books out there.

Oh god finally, someone else on MeFi who has read these. My favorite fantasy series. For real.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:03 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Think of how rare it is for anybody to tell a joke!

"My son Roy has suggested that this book requires more funny bits. Desperate, I have ventured to request that each of the characters in The Book of the New Sun supply me with one humorous story, and a few have been sufficiently cooperative to do it..."
posted by Iridic at 10:11 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


There has been no good fantasy literature since Peake's mighty Gormenghast trilogy. Tolkien is tiresome, adolescent to the point of pain, and so overrated it's a brutal crime against good taste.

Once again, I have spoken.
posted by Decani at 10:13 AM on February 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


Is this where I tell everybody to go read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality?
posted by Rinku at 10:17 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Steven Erikson

That said, I have lent the first book to three friends and none of them liked it. The consensus seemed to be that they didn't enjoy being dropped into the middle of a story with a long time-line and and ton of characters with almost no context. I happen to love that shit, so your enjoyment may depend on what type of story you like.


I developed a sort of horrified fascination with Erikson, after a friend recommended him to me. There is a bunch to like -- his cultures feel like they could be real cultures, his technologies made a certain amount of sense, and his magic system was amusing (if fairly obviously derived from playing RPGs).

There is also a great deal to hate -- the dreadful pacing, wooden dialogue, non-existent character development, endless depiction of maiming (with fantasy healing you can maim the same characters over and over again!*), and the plot that wanders on and on with only the desperate desire of a payoff to drag this reader through the latest volume. A payoff which, on that announcement that it is going from 10 to 22 books, seems endlessly delayed. A decent editor could fix probably 2/3 of this (mostly by cutting about 70% of Erikson's prose), but that does not seem likely to happen.

*The character who gets raped and tortured, then healed and her memory erased, so she can get tortured again (the villain lacking time for more rape, as I recall), then gets healed again so she can marry another character (for whom she has shown only the slightest affection, (but, in his defense, he has been tortured, too, or, at least, badly wounded)) and spend the next few books making rather wan quips with, is a case in point. And there are thousands of pages of this sort of thing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:22 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also: I read Perdido Street Station because of you, metafilter. I hate you for that and I want the wasted time back. The story was ok, but the prose was just so awful. I fought to get through it because everybody else seemed to think it was great, but it just kept getting worse.

I read Perdido Street Station before I found Metafilter, but I also hate that I ever read it. It makes me gag when I see it lauded around these parts. When that bug-headed lady got raped in her bug head, I knew I was reading a book I would hate forever and never be able to forget.

Interesting to read what a bigoted jackass Brandon Sanderson is. I read the Mistborn trilogy recently and hated it despite being quite taken with some of the elements of the first book, although unlike Perdido Street Station, I'm not really able to pin down what squicked me about the Mistborn books. They just got increasingly unhinged and stupid and I kept wondering why I was reading and why I felt vaguely grimy.

When my dad read The Lord of the Rings out loud to us, he always substituted "Wet Blanket" when the text said "Aragorn." We found that much funnier than creepy old Tom Bombadil.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:24 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whew, good to get that off my chest. As for the the actual topic of the FPP, it did read a lot like "Fantasy is all rubbish these days, not like when I was a boy."
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:25 AM on February 16, 2011


Sexuality is probably the biggest thing [Tolkien] pushed to appendices that he was reluctant to write or see attached to his novels

Not just Tolkien – and thank god for that. I don't want to know about furries gettin' it awn. I'm not sure why, it just ain't my bag when it comes to what I want to visualise in sub plots of fantasy novels.

When Sam was putting the moves on Rosie at the end of Lord of the Rings I was all "get a room, you two!" And the inter species kiss in the remake of Planet of the Apes almost had me barfing. :)

Fighting: YES

Fucking: NO
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:28 AM on February 16, 2011


"Call me humorless, call me old-fashioned..."

Ok. You're humorless and old-fashioned. A humorless, old-fashioned Republicant drone who works in the bowels of a stock research firm, to be precise... but who feels compelled to call himself a writer, just because he's written a few ideologically slanted cultural pieces for the National Review. Really... reading this guy's pieces is like listening to Michael Medved break wind.

I love high fantasy, but really... Leo Grin should crawl back into the closet with Mr. Tumnus.
posted by markkraft at 10:29 AM on February 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


I read Perdido Street Station before I found Metafilter, but I also hate that I ever read it.

I really liked the first half of Perdido Street Station, with its richly-textured world and all the going out to dinner and worrying about grants and hanging out with friends. Then the plot got going, and I kind of hoped that the "bad guys" would get eaten by something off-stage so we could get back to dinners and grant writing. The Scar held together better, and I also liked The Iron Council a lot -- even though I hate what Mieville does to characters I have come to like, I like that he takes the consequences of heroic action seriously -- if you want to overthrow a despotic regime, well, be prepared for a lot of awful things, since, generally, despotic regimes resist being overthrown, and they have a lot of unpleasant tools on their side.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:35 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Grin seems to be an honest-to-God ‘Flat-Brainer’: someone who literally thinks that his yardstick is not bent, that he has not only won the Magical Belief Lottery, he has obviously done so.

Which is to say that Grin is passing judgment on fantasy from a fantasy world – or worlds, as the case might be. The first is the fantasy world where, despite being one more me-me-me schmuck like everyone else, he is obviously right unlike everyone else. The second is the fantasy world where the entire parade of human conceit, everything from our sense of moral certainty to the spiritual inferiority of the Other, possesses objective weight.

Which is why he uses the language and the attitude that I’m continually try to work into my fantasy world! Why I think the above quote is so awesome.

The ‘nihilism’ that Grin blames on decadent individuals (who also happen to be his political competitors) is as impersonal as can be, the result the forces unleashed by the Enlightenment twins of science and capital. Someone like him is bound to see ‘liberal contamination’ everywhere he turns, simply because, like our less tolerant ancestors, he needs to personify those things he does not like. But you don’t need liberal conspiracies or social dystopia to explain the evolution of contemporary fantasy. The transformation of ‘earnest art’ into forms than are progressively more baroque and revisionary is something you find in pretty much all genres of artistic expression. Familiarity breeds boredom, if not contempt. Humans stranded with old equipment come up with new games to play.
From R. Scott Bakker's response to Leo Grin.
posted by Kattullus at 10:36 AM on February 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


But on the other hand, I once had a big realization that I wouldn't want to hang out with anyone in any of Tolkien's books (well, maybe Smaug).

I wouldn't mind smoking a bowl with Gandalf and watching him shoot fire from his fingertips. Tom Bombadil would probably be an interesting guy, too.

Tolkien is tiresome, adolescent to the point of pain, and so overrated it's a brutal crime against good taste.

I even read the stupid thing twice, because I thought I must have missed all the good stuff the first time. Ugh. Decent story, poor execution.

Steve Erickson is fucking awesome. Tours of the Black Clock blew me away (I was in college), Arc d'X is excellent, and I'm a big, big fan of The Sea Came in at Midnight too. Some of the others were a bit muddy for me (Rubicon Beach?), but still worthwhile.

I wouldn't consider him fantasy (slipstream?) but I'm not too knowledgeable about genres...

Also, Infinite Jest: Fantasy? Sci-fi? I never know ...

Also, Matt Ruff's Gas, Sewer, & Electric is great fun (Fool on the Hill as well). Fantasy? Or is that the elusive "magical realism"?
posted by mrgrimm at 10:36 AM on February 16, 2011


In other words, modern fantasy is just like everyday life.

Yes, except with dragons.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:39 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


mrgrimm, Steve Erickson and Steven Erikson are two different authors.
posted by fryman at 10:40 AM on February 16, 2011


Damn it, now I want a guitar with "This machine kills fantasists" on the front.

I don't even play guitar.
posted by Naberius at 10:47 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Damn it, now I want a guitar with "This machine kills fantasists" on the front.

Played by Wood-elf Guthrie?
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:49 AM on February 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


There's a lot of good contemporary fantasy - I mean, honestly, how can anyone go on writing or reading the same LOTR ripoff over and over again? That way lies the madness or Sword of Shannara, either/or and worse, you start getting forsooths and nays thrown in there. At some point you begin to beg for something, anything, different to happen and I'm delighted when it does. I wouldn't put Howard in the same class as Tolkien as a writer, either: I love me some Conan but the prose? Seriously? Eeek. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser did it better and with more panache, has he not read them? And that's the old stuff, from back when the world was oh so new and all and there was only one woman in it.

Yes, fantasy has gone overboard on the antihero and gore track over the last couple of decades. There's a lot of stuff I won't read anymore because it's just too endlessly dark and, even worse, the same bloodbath over and over again (Simon R. Green, I'm looking at you.) But there are always pendulums and ebb and flow and, what's more, in most contemporary fantasy there are actually two sexes, not just a world of men with at most, 3 women: a busty barmaid, one thief and a princess. To my mind, that's been the best change in fantasy over the last 50 years.

Patricia McKillip, mentioned upthread, is still writing complex stories with actual flawed characters and murky outcomes that's nonetheless firmly in the tradition of classic fantasy. Sean McMullen, who never seems to get mentioned, writes great stuff that wavers on the edge of fantasy. I love Mieville* but I'm not sure I would even call his stuff fantasy, really and certainly he's not attempting to add to the swords & sorcery canon. The genres have blurred - is Charles DeLint fantasy? What about Jim Butcher? The Codex Alera is his (kind of tiresome) take on lengthy heroic fantasy in which the good guys are totally good and win but the Harry Dresden books, better, have a flawed hero in a contemporary world. Anne Bishop's stuff is straight, if different, fantasy. And then there's Elizabeth Bear, who's really good, is it fantasy or something else? Breitbart seems not to want to know about any of it, which I think is a shame, but then I'm a godless liberal socialist type who thinks it's good when walls fall down.

*Kraken is the best one yet, by far. Yes, yes it is.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:50 AM on February 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


Basically, Leo Grin likes classic fantasies with traditional, non-threatening archetypes, dark villains, and heroes in white...

But anything new scares him. Hell, even when it meets the definition of what he claims to like, he derides it as being liberal and decadent.

Isn't this the exact definition of a Republican?
posted by markkraft at 10:51 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Basically, Leo Grin likes classic fantasies with traditional, non-threatening archetypes, dark villains, and heroes in white...

Ah! Now I have it -- he is obviously Ursula K Le Guin's evil Doppelgänger!

Leo Grin/Le Guin? Makes perfect sense.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:55 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Leo Grin reminds me of "comic book guy" or Ignatius J. Reilly, with his utter conviction that not only is he right, but that only a mental defective could possibly harbor an even slightly different opinion from his.
posted by Mister_A at 10:57 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


How has this thread gotten this long with no mention of Guy Gavriel Kay?? I'd say he's probably the best "inheritor" of the Tolkien legacy. By which I do not mean that he just re-writes LOTR clones - not at all. But instead he uses real life historical settings as starting points for epic stories where characters can be complex in motivation and all that modern stuff, but still be "heroes."
posted by dnash at 10:59 AM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


And really, George R. R. Martin, do I have to hate every character, can't I like one of them?

Of course you can like some of them, but just the ones he, tortures, humiliates, maims for life and then kills outright just as it looked like they might have some influence on the plot or exhibit some redeeming quality.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:10 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think Leo Grin needs a little face time with The Torture Squid.
posted by steambadger at 11:13 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


For another richly-textured fantasy world, try Sarah Monette's Mélusine and The Virtu. Interesting world, which she lets the readers work out on their own (something I like about Erikson) without helpful infodumps (something Erikson, alas, occasionally surrenders to). Her characters are rather spectacularly flawed and not very nice, although they generally try to do better (and fail as often as not). Neither flat "good guys" nor sociopathic antiheroes.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:14 AM on February 16, 2011


And really, George R. R. Martin...

...I can barely remember who I was married to ten years ago. How am I supposed to remember whether Daenerys Targaryen has made it to Westeros yet?
posted by steambadger at 11:18 AM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


The article is about what I'd expect to come out of BH, especially when SF or fantasy in any medium gets mentioned. Especially telling is the bit near the end where Grin quotes Robert Bloch's hilarious takedown of Conan, and responds by quoting Tolkien's fuck-you to his critics from the back of one of the LotR editions and posting a picture of Tolkien from WWI, instead of directly referring to Robert E. Howard, who for all of his talent and genre-shaping influence was a chubby college dropout that lived in or near his hometown nearly his entire life, had only one off-and-on girlfriend (who left him for his best friend), and committed suicide on the eve of his mother's death. (This should not be taken as a personal criticism of Howard, BTW.) You'd think that Grin, who used to publish a journal about Howard, would have something a bit more apropos to rebut Bloch with, but no. On the plus side, I've got what amounts to an unintended recommendation (intended on the part of the MeFites who have commented in this thread) for Joe Abercrombie.

Mieville-filter: I like all of his Bas-Lag books--the bit in Perdido Street Station where we first see directly how the slake moths feed has stayed with me, and it's fun to compare/contrast the revolution in The Iron Council with a similar plot in Pratchett's Night Watch--but my favorite is still The Scar, which is just a big ripping sea yarn with a bunch of great action set pieces. I nearly shat myself with glee when I found an issue of Dragon with stats for people, races and things from Mieville, including the Possible Sword.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:22 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another name not yet mentioned, my own favorite, is M. John Harrison. Nothing catches the spirit of Peake's or Dunsany's own peculiar weirdness better than the Viriconium stories.

(On the topic of Breitbart, Christ, he's a contemptible, juvenile hack.)
posted by octobersurprise at 11:25 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was actually reading The Heroes at the gym a little bit ago and came across this passage that fits the current discussion pretty well:
"Well, true. There's two sides to every coin, but there's my very point. People like simple stories." Craw frowned at the pink marks down the edges of his nails. "But poeple ain't simple."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:30 AM on February 16, 2011


Well, people anyways.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:31 AM on February 16, 2011


Fighting: YES

Fucking: NO


The biggest problem with commercial cinema.

mrgrimm, Steve Erickson and Steven Erikson are two different authors.

Ah, thanks. Never heard of Erikson. (Odd choice for a pseudonym, but I suppose he probably didn't know of Erickson at the time.)
posted by mrgrimm at 11:33 AM on February 16, 2011


"Hey you kids! Get off of my imaginary lawn!"
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:39 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I love these threads, not because of the actual content, but for all the book recommendations. Just the other day I was in a bookstore thinking to myself, "I wonder if I'd like Joe Abercrombie," and after reading the comments in here, I think the answer is "Probably."
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:49 AM on February 16, 2011


Gandalf, for reasons I don't quite recall, leaves Middle Earth with them, never to return.

He was secretly a ringbearer, too, carrying one of the Three Rings that had originally been given to elves, but had never actually been touched by Sauron, and so weren't totally evil and corrupting. Galadriel and Elrond were carrying the other two.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to making mithril chainmail out of twisted bottle caps.
posted by gimonca at 11:52 AM on February 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


gimonca: He was secretly a ringbearer, too, carrying one of the Three Rings that had originally been given to elves, but had never actually been touched by Sauron, and so weren't totally evil and corrupting. Galadriel and Elrond were carrying the other two.

That, and he's from there to begin with.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:54 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


@gimonca The ring given to Gandalf by Cirdan the Shipwright when the former first arrived in Middle-Earth.

/wipes tear
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:55 AM on February 16, 2011


If we're all making suggestions, does anyone rate Raymond E. Feist? I read his first three books [I think they were referred to as The Magician Trilogy] and I was blown away.

But I was in my late teens when I read them, and a lot of very average stuff blew me away when I was that age.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:04 PM on February 16, 2011


I think they’ve done little more than become cheap purveyors of civilizational graffiti.

Oh, please. All I can imagine is Grin sulking back off to his room decorated with tapestries of magnificent wizards to read the Warcraft tie-in novels because they've got an orc in them. (Please don't read the Warcraft tie-in novels. The most risible attempt is Lord of the Clans and you can still get a better, more poignant experience watching the one-minute Warcraft Adventures trailer.)

Every fantasy author has to, in the end, answer to Tolkien. But to discount every single piece of fantasy that isn't ghosts'n'goblins because you think it's about teenybopper elves snorting cocaine, which I hope someone has written, is the purview of thirteen-year-olds only.

Go read some VanderMeer for amazing civilizational graffiti, go read some Kushner. Read Susanna Clarke if you want something with an elf in it. Read some Datlow. Scott Lynch is nthed a thousand fucking times. They do unfortunately write shit with women in it and there's nary an orc, so that may ruin the "thematic richness."

And nobody would lay a wreath at Tolkien's feet more than G.R.R.M, whose main fantasy text I suspect Grin is also disapproving of. The man is so old school his math homework was done on stone tablets. Anyone calling HIS stuff that of a "punk kid" mocking and defiling the genre is, I say gently and with sensitivity, a dickwheel who doesn't know what the hell they are talking about. One does not have to even like ASoIaF to acknowledge that.
posted by monster truck weekend at 12:08 PM on February 16, 2011


If we're all making suggestions, does anyone rate Raymond E. Feist? I read his first three books [I think they were referred to as The Magician Trilogy] and I was blown away.

But I was in my late teens when I read them, and a lot of very average stuff blew me away when I was that age.
posted by uncanny hengeman


Same here. 20 years ago, I thought those books were the raddest things ever. Now, I'm kind of afraid to see what I'd think.
posted by COBRA! at 12:11 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


While everyone has already said everything I wanted to say, I just want there to be one more voice acknowledging this guy is a complete and utter tool.
posted by papercake at 12:11 PM on February 16, 2011


Abercrombie responds.
posted by aldurtregi at 12:16 PM on February 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


What, no love for David Anthony Durham?

Epic fantasy written with a historian's eye. Complex characters, political intrigue, world-building out the proverbial wazoo.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:19 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


OK, having now read Abercrombie's response on his blog, I can now say that yes, I do like Joe Abercrombie, definitely, and will probably end up buying his books.
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:21 PM on February 16, 2011


I've read The Iron Dragon's Daughter - I remember it as being a rather clever and yes subversive take on a lot of fantasy tropes.

Scenes of teenybopper elf sex and coke-snorting pile one atop the other until the book becomes to fantasy literature what the films of Larry Clark (Kids, Bully) are to cinema.

The 'tennybopper sex' and 'coke-snorting' can't have had much effect on me as I can't remember them now (as opposed to the missile-armed dragons) I certainly can't remember it being like Larry Clark, if anything I remember it being rather Dickensian (kids working in steam-punk sweatshops)... But I suppose Dickens would be much to left-wing for this guy.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:22 PM on February 16, 2011


Abercrombie's advice to the dude: Admire your unrivalled collection of Frank Frazetta prints for a while.

From aldurtregi's link above.
posted by Mister_A at 12:22 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Think of a Lord of the Rings where, after stringing you along for thousands of pages, all of the hobbits end up dying of cancer contracted by their proximity to the Ring, Aragorn is revealed to be a buffoonish puppet-king of no honor and false might, and Gandalf no sooner celebrates the defeat of Sauron than he executes a long-held plot to become the new Dark Lord of Middle-earth, and you have some idea of what to expect should you descend into Abercrombie’s jaded literary sewer.

This sounds awesome.
posted by majonesing at 12:32 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ooohhh, I'm gonna mine this thread mercilessly for reading material suggestions! Thanks, grumpy Republican dude!
posted by Harald74 at 12:33 PM on February 16, 2011


I'm curious about this — I used to love fantasy stuff as a kid and adolescent, also particularly flavored by D&D (and Shadowrun and Palladium and Rifts, which if anyone in LA wants to GM…), but when I tried to read any as an adult, especially the LoTR, I found it so incredibly turgid and overwrought that I couldn't force myself to stay interested. When I was recovering from my accident, someone gave me Game of Thrones, which is recommended highly, but the first several chapters are devoted to such courtly minutiae that I wanted to stab my face off.

Part of it might be that I've ended up over in sci-fi much more strongly, and tend to feel annoyed at any supernatural nonsense that isn't metaphorical; I'll read magical realism all day long, but ghosts that people literally believe in always makes me think the characters are stupid (which is generally how I also feel about people who believe in ghosts in real life).

So I think I'm going to look into some of the books mentioned here — I only know China Meiville from his comic books, and I'm curious about the Marxist fantasies (god knows I've had some), though I suspect that might have gone over better wit my aesthetic taste back when I was in poli sci classes.
posted by klangklangston at 12:37 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can probably read it on FF.net, majonesing, and as an added bonus I bet Gimli and Legolas will have unresolved sexual tension in it.
posted by monster truck weekend at 12:38 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Leo Grin has apparently deliberately crafted a rant with the specific purpose of making my brain melt. I... I... NERD EXPLOSION.

I don't know where to begin. I don't even know if I want to begin. Have fun masturbating to your Vallejo covers, Grin.
posted by Justinian at 12:43 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait a second, wait a second. What if it actually turned out that different people found different books enjoyable?
posted by honeydew at 12:49 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


honeydew: then we get to have a great thread where we discuss lots of different fantasy writers and why we like them.

Well, okay, that's what we get to have if we're Metafilter. If we're Leo Grin, we get to bitch about how everything's going to hell because of the jaded liberal intellectuals, then go back to reading the same few books over and over again.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:53 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


A big second on Jeff Vandermeer's Ambergris books (to which I alluded above in my cryptic Torture Squid comment). City of Saints and Madmen, in particular, is mind-bogglingly great; but Shriek and Finch are worth a read, as well.
posted by steambadger at 12:56 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Huh, I see Abercrombie got there first with his reference to Frank Frazetta. Well play, Joe, well played. And here I thought I was having an original thought.
posted by Justinian at 12:58 PM on February 16, 2011


I only know China Meiville from his comic books

Wait, China Mieville has done comic books?!
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:11 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


What, no love for David Anthony Durham?

Oh, glad to see someone mention him. I've got the second book in his series waiting at the library. It's the first new epic-type fantasy I've felt compelled to read the second book of in years. (I'm interested in Jemisen and this thread may have sold me on trying Abercrombie.)

As for Grin, NRO conservative stands athwart fantasy history, yelling stop. Film at 11.
posted by immlass at 1:16 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


While we're at it, no Zelazny, no Mervyn Peake... what a fucking lightweight.
posted by Artw at 1:18 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, Abercrombie mentions Fritz Leiber in his reply; and I'd like to take this opportunity to recommend that anybody who isn't acquainted with Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser remedy that situation as soon as possible.
posted by steambadger at 1:28 PM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


One suspects Grin would have an aneurysm if confronted with Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains. Perhaps I should buy him a copy. (NOTE: Not a literal aneurysm).

Grin's reading of Tolkien is so obviously facile that one finds it hard to take him seriously. Yes, Tolkien is all about the history and the mythopoetics. But Grin is only taking the superficial aspects into account. Tolkien's fundamental worldview is far more dangerous, backwards, and anti-humanist than anything in Abercrombie or his cohort. Abercrombie, Morgan, Lynch et al are cynical because they want the world to be fair and they recognize that it isn't. They want the world to be a better place. Tolkien may be earnest (although even that is missing the less simplistic aspects) but he wanted the world to be worse. He wouldn't phrase it that way but no-one ever does.

Even if that weren't true Grin has no grasp of the history of the genre. The modern fantasy genre was launched not by Tolkien (although he is, of course, the single greatest influence... even if that influence is often subject to the second artist effect) but by Donaldson and Brooks. The authors Grin so hates are in the Donaldson tradition, the ones he no doubt loves are in the Brooks. You can guess which I prefer.
posted by Justinian at 1:31 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


How has this thread gotten this long with no mention of Guy Gavriel Kay?? I'd say he's probably the best "inheritor" of the Tolkien legacy....

This, my god. GGK is amazing. Brilliant epic fantasy themes, elegant but concise prose, and flawed, believable characters. Honestly, I'd say that he's vastly improved Tolkien's so-called legacy, but I'm hardly a literary expert (or much of a Tolkien fan)~
posted by ashirys at 1:35 PM on February 16, 2011


I'm a humorless reactionary and I think this guy dosen't go far back enough. Tolkien is boring, and lacks the elegic myth-making of Lord Dunsany
Fantasy needs that combination of sadness and high weirdness.
Dunsany has it. Fritz Leiber has part of it. Moorcock, M John Harrison, and Vandermeer have it. Mieville has the world-building but not the plotting
Haven't read much sword and sorcery beyond those guys. If you want mythopoetic, read Lord Dunsany
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 1:36 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


And, oh dear God, John C. Wright rings in.

Is there a greater exponent of Dorsal Millinery than John C. Wright?
posted by steambadger at 1:39 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


And, oh dear God, John C. Wright rings in.

Now that the supernal has made a come-back, and captured again the popular imagination, the literati (or, to be precise, anti-literati) make inroads into the realm of elfland itself, to erect the smog and graffito of their beloved Mordor.

An Eagle of Manwë cried a single tear.

NEVER FORGET
posted by monster truck weekend at 1:43 PM on February 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


His take on the Iron Dragon's Daughter by Swanwick is bunk.
posted by zzazazz at 1:47 PM on February 16, 2011


And where was this guy when Moorcock was deconstructing Tolkien and Howard in the 70s?

That said, I'll avoid Abercrombie too unless the grim nihilism is married to imagination. I read fantasy for the fantastic. Any love for Clive Barker's Imajica? It's feminist epic fantasy with some of the most amazing descriptions I've read
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 1:50 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seriously, where the fuck are these people setting themselves up as some kind of experts despite never having read anything but Tolkien and (supposedly) Howard coming from?
posted by Artw at 1:51 PM on February 16, 2011


heh. Mr. Abercrombie at his own blog takes exception to Mr. Grin’s rhetoric, as is only fair, but for some reason pauses to call me insane.
posted by Artw at 1:52 PM on February 16, 2011


I liked Imajica too, Lovecraft in Brooklyn. I smoked a lot of pot in those days though. But yeah, I do remember the vivid descriptiveness of it, far more than I remember the story.
posted by Mister_A at 1:53 PM on February 16, 2011


John C. Wright is what happens when a dyed in the wool Randian Objectivist has a road to Damascus conversion to Catholicism. Which is a damned shame because he actually has a pretty decent talent hiding under all the crazy.
posted by Justinian at 2:00 PM on February 16, 2011


John C. Wright: IRON DRAGON’S DAUGHTER is to honest fairy stories with real magic to them as the movie version of STARSHIP TROOPERS is to that novel of the same name: an elaborate and obsessive long-drawn-out paean of hatred and contempt of a cramped and unlit soul crouched in a fen or cave against the sunny upland glades of some larger and more glorious thing he can neither understand nor adore: a harpy excreting the excess of diseased bowels on festal delicacies her digestion cannot accept, and elfin wines her tongue not savor.

Way to miss the point there, bub.

He seems to be cut from the same cloth as Grin, frankly.
posted by bonehead at 2:03 PM on February 16, 2011


I will say that I prefer over the top MEANING to nihilism. This may seem strange, given my stated tastes, but the authors I love write about worlds of personified ideas and great tumbling towers and sublime cities fading into decay. Elric would never find himself in a sewer for long. The world is too meaningless, and I would prefer my fiction have some grand meaning
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 2:03 PM on February 16, 2011


"Such are the souls of those who hate the muses and seek to use the gift of song to ruin song, or who think it wise or daring to efface and degrade the dreams of men into darkness."

Anyone who writes like this deserves at least a look. I'll check him out. I don't agree with what he says but I love the rhythm of that prose
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 2:06 PM on February 16, 2011


This guy should go and actually read Steven Erikson's books.

(It would keep him from bothering us for five or six years.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:06 PM on February 16, 2011


How has this thread gotten this long with no mention of Guy Gavriel Kay?? I'd say he's probably the best "inheritor" of the Tolkien legacy....

This, my god. GGK is amazing. Brilliant epic fantasy themes, elegant but concise prose, and flawed, believable characters.


I used to read the same chapter of The Summer Tree over and over again because it was just beautiful and heartbreaking. As much as I loved GGK's later novels, the more political ones, I'm not sure they ever effected me as much as that one passage. I'm really hoping I can find it when I get home.
posted by gladly at 2:07 PM on February 16, 2011


I know John C. Wright's is completely insane and all, but... but... never mind, I think I'll just go lie down now.
posted by aspo at 2:08 PM on February 16, 2011


I'd already decided to check out Abercrombie's stuff, but after following the link to his response, he had me at this:
On one side are the towering mythic geniuses of Tolkien and Howard, who wrote “in blood and lighting” according to Leo, although presumably on extremely hardwearing paper.
The bit near the end with kitten-powered zeppelins also had me laughing.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:09 PM on February 16, 2011


Anyone who writes like this deserves at least a look. I'll check him out. I don't agree with what he says but I love the rhythm of that prose

As Ackbar says, "IT'S A TRAP!".

He is just luring you in and getting you to drop your defenses before he digs up the decaying zombie corpse of Ayn Rand to vomit all over you. With added racism.
posted by Justinian at 2:09 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ah, I knew John C Wright sounded familiar. Beware the homosex, people! His wife was involved in some stupidity around that time too, IIRC. Oh wait, here it is. What a lovely family.
posted by kmz at 2:15 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Abercrombie is good...

I’m a little suspicious, I must say, of any argument that lumps Tolkien and Howard together as one thing, although Leo has made the photos of them in his piece point towards each other in a very complimentary fashion. I think of them as polar opposites in many ways, and the originators (or at least key practitioners) of, to some extent, opposed traditions within sword-based fantasy. Tolkien, the father of high fantasy, Howard the father of low. Howard’s work, written by a man who died at thirty, tends to the short and pulpy (as you’d expect from stories written for pulp magazines). Tolkien’s work, published on the whole when he was advanced in years, is very long and literary (as you’d expect from a professor of English). Tolkien is more focused on setting, I’d say, Howard on character. Leo’s point is that they both celebrate a moral simplicity, a triumph of heroism, but I see that too as a massive over-simplification. Howard celebrates the individual, is deeply cynical (could one even say nihilistic) about civilisation. Tolkien seems broadly to celebrate order, structure, duty and tradition.
posted by Artw at 2:16 PM on February 16, 2011


He is just luring you in and getting you to drop your defenses before he digs up the decaying zombie corpse of Ayn Rand to vomit all over you.

No, he's actually replaced the decaying zombie corpse of Ayn Rand in his pantheon. Ostensibly.
It's hard to imagine how a man could change his entire worldview without losing a single ounce of smug in the process, but Wright managed it somehow.
posted by steambadger at 2:18 PM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I adored GGK's Tigana, but for rewriting history as fantasy, I think Bujold's Curse of Chalion is better than GGK's later more historical novels - she plays more with the history, adding to it, rather than strangely retelling it with all the names changed Also, a truly fascinating take on faith and religion and the place of God(s) in human lives -- throughout the three novels in that universe.
posted by jb at 2:21 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Ayn Rand vomit occurs in Wright's first trilogy. His Damascus conversion didn't occur until after that! But even so I do not believe he has rid himself of all vestiges even if he doesn't realize it himself. Replacing Randian bullshit with racist, homophobic religious bullshit is not an improvement in any case.
posted by Justinian at 2:23 PM on February 16, 2011


I adored GGK's Tigana, but for rewriting history as fantasy, I think Bujold's Curse of Chalion is better than GGK's later more historical novels

Interesting. I like Bujold quite a bit but I think Kay is in a whole other league in terms of prose. And you read Kay for the prose while you read Bujold for the plot.
posted by Justinian at 2:24 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Abercrombie also gets points for knowing who Fritz Leiber is.
posted by Artw at 2:30 PM on February 16, 2011


While I disagree with the article as a whole, I find it hard to disagree with him about Abercrombie. Initially I was hooked but somewhere midway through the second book of the First Law trilogy, I was going, "Oh really? Another heroic character? I BET HE LOVES TO CHOP PEOPLE'S HEADS OFF FOR SEXUAL TITILLATION. Oh? A villain? I bet he's TRYING REALLY HARD and is ACTUALLY SYMPATHETIC AND LOVABLE!" Since by then I knew than any character he gave me to get invested in emotionally was going to turn up hateable, and any character he gave me to hate I was going to later feel sympathy for, the whole exercise became both tiresome and predictable. I felt totally exasperated and preemptively didn't care about any new character introduced. And it kind-of frustrates me that no other fantasy lovers of my acquaintance were annoyed by this!

Locke Lamora = way better.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:30 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Abercrombie also gets points for knowing who Fritz Leiber is.

One suspects you'd be hard pressed to find a professional author of modern fantasy who does not know who Fritz Leiber is.
posted by Justinian at 2:32 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lies of Locke Lamora read like someone had a decent D&D campaign and thought it would make a good novel.
posted by aspo at 2:39 PM on February 16, 2011


One suspects you'd be hard pressed to find a professional author of modern fantasy who does not know who Fritz Leiber is.

Eh. I'd bet the ratio of those who know him to those who don't is about 60/60.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:40 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


While that ratio can be parsed, I'm guessing you don't mean 1:1.
posted by Justinian at 2:45 PM on February 16, 2011


Lies of Locke Lamora read like someone had a decent D&D campaign and thought it would make a good novel.

I acknowledge YMMV, but I'm hard-pressed to imagine the D&D campaign that comprises the events of that book. Lynch is writing pure caper with a hero whose stat is primarily CHA oh God forgive me for saying that, and his worldbuilding is unbelievably lush and detailed -- which I find unusual and refreshing paired with his very tight plotting, esp. in the debut novel. None of the characters fall into the D&D trope list. Nothing tropeily D&D campaign happens. Am not saying you cannot critique, just that this doesn't quite grok with the book.

Just think it's an unfair accusation when you consider books that were D&D campaigns. Raistlin Majere casts magic missile at the darkness.
posted by monster truck weekend at 2:51 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Other D&D (or other RPG) setting inspired novels include early Feist, Steven Brust's Taltos sequence, Steven Erikson's Malazan books, Butcher's Dresden Files, and (as anyone who has actually read the thing as opposed to listening to the author can tell) Moon's Deed of Paksenarrion.

The quality varies rather widely.
posted by Justinian at 3:00 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I actually really like Kim Newman's Warhammer stuff.
posted by Artw at 3:12 PM on February 16, 2011


(written as Jack Yeovil, of course)
posted by Artw at 3:12 PM on February 16, 2011


Hey I just last week picked up the one-volume Gormenghast trilogy thanks to an AskMe reccomendation thread. I'm only a hundred pages in or so but it is amazing, it had never occurred to me that fantasy lit could contain real genuine poetry in its prose, and have more in common with Dickens than Tolkien. One of these days I'd like to visit the alternate universe where Peake's stuff became the basis of the Western Fantasy Canon while Tolkien lapsed into obscurity.
posted by chaff at 3:38 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


We should be talking more about Lord Dunsany. Before I read The King of Elfland's Daughter, I had no idea you could write like that. Every page just blows me away with its lyricism and poetry. If more people tried to imitate Dunsany, inasmuch as that is even possible, the world of fiction would be a better place.

I've read the first few chapters of The Blade Itself, having picked it up on a whim and knowing nothing about it or Abercrombie. I keep meaning to go back to it, but other stuff gets in the way. I will say that I went out and bought the other two in the trilogy after reading the first few chapters, so I liked it a lot. The characters are pretty interesting and complicated, there's a sense of a world underneath the opening interactions, and I really liked that no one ever wants to get into a fight because they might die painfully. So it's not heroic, but it's definitely fantasy, and I've enjoyed it so far.
posted by Errant at 4:37 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


John C. Wright had a blurb on the back of his wife's last-but-one book. I could not stop laughing. Talk about moral bankruptcy!
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:53 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm glad to hear the love for Scott Lynch in this thread. I agree that his books read like a really, really, really amazing D&D campaign in terms of high swashbuckling and shenanigans (actually I would strongly argue it's a lot more like 7th Sea), but The Lies of Locke Lamora was the first fantasy novel in a long time that had me absolutely hanging on every word and feeling simultaneously like abject shit and the biggest badass in the world (depending on the point in the plot.) Can't wait for The Republic of Thieves.

I have no idea who mentioned Matt Ruff's Sewer, Gas, and Electric upthread, but I greatly appreciate it. Anything that involves the electronically resurrected spirit of Ayn Rand in a hurricane lamp, the world's only black Amish eco-terrorist and a mutant great white that prowls the sewers of NY to the strains of Ravel's "Bolero" should, like, be Metafilter's official totem book or spirit book or book animal or something.
posted by WidgetAlley at 5:12 PM on February 16, 2011


If I could just reiterate for some people who, coming late to the party, might make their way down here without seeing these recommendations. R. Scott Baker, Scott Lynch, and KJ Parker aren't mentioned enough, in my opinion. Of the three, Scott Lynch perhaps gets the most notice, since he's writing what are, essentially, very accessible (but with fantasy trappings) heist thrillers. But R. Scott Baker's Prince of Nothing books are fantastic, and I think I've seen about three references to KJ Parker's Engineer trilogy total on the otherwise comprehensive and always excellent MeFi fantasy threads.
posted by mollweide at 6:14 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I quite like Tolkien and Howard, and find myself put off by much of modern fantasy, so I ended up agreeing with many of his points, except where it went into ideas like timeless myths. Those really don't exist. Conan is great because it's direct, knows what it's about and goes about doing it well. Same goes for Tolkien. The problem with deconstruction, ultimately, is when it is more a reaction and a reflection of something else than something new itself.

That said, there IS excellent fantasy being written these days. A tremendous amount of it was written by Terry Pratchett. Discworld has for some time been a whole lot more than parody.
posted by JHarris at 6:19 PM on February 16, 2011


Whether or not my own work is nihilism seems to me very arguable, but poison to the reader’s mind and culture? Really? If you feel your mind and culture might collapse under the weight of a surprising ending involving an unpleasant wizard, a rubbish king and a couple of swear words, it seems to me you really need to dig them some deeper foundations.

Nicely turned.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:25 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like Bujold's prose style; I don't remember being that impressed by GGK's. His structure is not as tight; the Night battles inspired scenes in Tigana were interesting, but out of step with the rest of the novel. But probably what has kept me from being more of a fan (though he is my hometown boy, and I have serious civic chauvinism) is that I haven't cared as much about the characters in the books since Tigana as those in Bujold's. (just for clarity -- I'm explicity comparing GGK's books only to Bujold's three Chalion-world novels, which are similar in style and intent. Her other novels are written in much lighter, less intricate styles, both for language and plotting. there is looseness in the plotting of her Sharing knife series that I don't think is there in The Curse of Chalion.)

For excellent prose styling, I would look to someone like Jeanette Winterson, Written on the body (not a fantasy, though she has attempted some). But Winterson is not a very good plotist or world-creator, so there are trade-offs.
posted by jb at 8:22 PM on February 16, 2011


"That said, there IS excellent fantasy being written these days. A tremendous amount of it was written by Terry Pratchett. Discworld has for some time been a whole lot more than parody.
posted by JHarris at 6:19 PM on February 16 [+] [!] "

I love Pratchett, but his work favors the mundane over the mythic. There's high magic, but it's too dangerous to use. There's constant reminders that humans a vain, fallible, devious, etc. It's a feature and not a bug but when the mythic creeps in it's instantly deflated.

We need the Sublime, the idea of terrifying largeness, of things so huge and mythic they can barely be comprehended.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:30 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder if this guy read the same Lord of the Rings where Frodo and Sam spent half a book alone in Mordor (well, with Gollum at times) and then walk for days without food after Frodo has been tortured, the orcs have killed each other and both hobbits have been enlisted in Sauron's army. And then Frodo can't communicate with anyone and has to go to the Big Hospice in the West.

I was thinking this article might be about the differences between myths and modern fantasy, which is a subject I'm interested in, but it wasn't. Keats has an interesting article about the elements of myth, but I can't check my library to find its name right now.
posted by ersatz at 5:07 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I actually convinced my literary book club to read "Curse of Chalion" and they were all very impressed that such high-quality "literary" writing could exist in "genre" fiction. (Except the one girl who announced that fantasy always involved "talking wolves" and she wasn't going to read that crap. Her loss!)

Flip side, since Chalion was the first Bujold I read, I was pretty disappointed when I read "Sharing Knife." Just not the same level; not as tightly-plotted, not as well-written. Pulpier, I guess. Had I not been expecting more work on the quality level of Chalion, I probably would have enjoyed it, but as it was it left a bad taste in my mouth.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:00 AM on February 17, 2011


My guess is Grin was reading Martin and put the book down after "the things I do for love" chapter. Which of course, is the point where everyone else (and soon all HBO viewers) said, "oh my god, I can't believe he just did that. Give me more." Wuss.

Abercrombie, Lynch, Erikson, Morgan, and of course Martin all make fantasy reflect the world we live in. And I think that is part of Grin's problem. He wants to go back to a past that never was. Like others pointed out, the ending of LOTR was not the happiest of affairs. Conan would crushed his skull, stole his money to buy a cheap jug of wine, slapped a wench on the butt, and said "killing is thirsty work."

since Chalion was the first Bujold I read

Oh no, you have to start with her space opera.
posted by Ber at 6:16 AM on February 17, 2011


"Oh no, you have to start with her space opera."

Hand over the time machine and I'll get right on that! :P
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:49 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: As an experiment in genre mash-ups, the Sharing Knife is modestly interesting. It tries to bring fantasy, romance, and historical fiction about the early West together.

In my own strictly-amateur writing efforts it was a needed kick to the head to think outside of urban vs. sword and sorcery vs. steampunk.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:55 AM on February 17, 2011


I think the differences in Bujold's writing are concious choices to write within certain genres and registers -- the Sharing Knife books are light adventure fantasy, simpler even than her space-opera, and the Chalion books are meant to be heavier reads -- in language and style as well length & subject matter.

For the record: I began reading Bujold with Chalion, only read the Vorkosigan books over a year later (I really dislike military-based space opera -- Vorkosigan is good enough to get me over that). I was sort-of disapointed with the awkward plotting of the SK series when I first read it -- I don't know if it was Bujold or her publisher who suggested publishing what is really 2 novels as 4 - I'm glad I had the first two when I started. But since then, the series has really grown on me.

-------

That said - and back to the topic of the thread - Lovecraft in Brooklyn says we need more of the mythic, the sublime

I think that The Curse of Chalion and The Hallowed Hunt both capture
these. Certainly, I had never spent as much time thinking about the nature of god(s) and the place of the Divine in the world of the mortal as I did after reading Curse of Chalion.

Sometimes I think fantasy and SF exist really just to mirror our worlds and through distortion highlight them. MZB could write about the subtle sexism of the 80s more effectively by juxtaposing it with an explicitly sexist society in Thendara House. Magic's Pawn by Mercedes Lackey is really a coming-out and growing up story made more dramatic by raising the stakes and having deadly threats that would be unbelievable in realist fiction. It's like Entries from a Hot Pink Notebook (excellent book - had me laughing and weeping), but with magic horses who provide comfort.
posted by jb at 7:15 AM on February 17, 2011


Oh, and the parable of the cups in Chalion -- an idea of faith that would make sense to most Christians or Muslims -- makes a much bigger impact when the gods manifest themselves and directly influence the physical world.
posted by jb at 7:19 AM on February 17, 2011


"I think the differences in Bujold's writing are concious choices to write within certain genres and registers -- the Sharing Knife books are light adventure fantasy, simpler even than her space-opera, and the Chalion books are meant to be heavier reads -- in language and style as well length & subject matter."

Totally agree, but didn't know that going in and was expecting more Chalion-style and Chalion-quality, and was disappointed. Like I said, had I know Sharing Knife was going to be light, breezy, summer-beach-read fantasy, I probably would have enjoyed it for what it was. But since I went in expecting something else, I ended up very disappointed.

I'd like to go back and read it some time as a summer-beach-read-type book, but I think I need to let the disappointment wear off for a while first so I forget how sad I was. :)

(Chalion side note: I thought the description of Cazaril's miracle at the end was one of the best descriptions of a divine encounter I've ever read -- brought tears to my eyes -- and I've got two degrees in Christian theology. Like I would seriously stick it on a syllabus for seminarians, that's how "true" it was.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:34 AM on February 17, 2011


Oh holy shit, I just re-read what I wrote up above and realized I omitted a few necessary words and it makes me sound like I actually enjoyed the rap parody in Soul Music.

No, it was the point at which I gave up on Discworld.

Okay, carry on -
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:26 AM on February 17, 2011


Famous monster -- that was like giving up on Pratchett when he was in grade 10 (Soul music is one of his weaker books) and since then he's gone on to do a PhD in fantasy. Since then he's written Thud! and The Amazing Maurice and his eerily prophetic pre-2001 Jingo too.
posted by jb at 8:55 AM on February 17, 2011


Guy Gavriel Kay: Oh my fucking god, that man's stuff is amazing. Humor and sexiness and action and human pain without overdoing any of it. Style. So much style.

George RR Martin: Thanks, but no thanks. You write beautifully, and yet you want to make your readers miserable. If I want misery, Rolling Stone has great articles on the American financial system. Read the first book, checked Wikipedia, found my expectations were dead-on. Don't really need the rest. Congrats on your great prose, dude, but I'm not interested in sitting around cutting myself.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:23 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, to those who deride anyone who'd put down a Martin book as "wusses" (I'm looking at you, Ber): kiss my ass.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:24 AM on February 17, 2011


"Also, to those who deride anyone who'd put down a Martin book as "wusses" (I'm looking at you, Ber): kiss my ass."

I tell those (native-English-speaking) people they can get back to me on the wussery only AFTER they have read The Brothers Karamazov in a week (English is fine) AND have read Crime and Punishment in the original Russian. THEN we can discuss wussery.

I didn't like George R.R. Martin either. I could tell it was a rich world, but I could also tell I wasn't going to enjoy the book. It's okay. People can dislike thing other people like. (Unless you like John Irving, in which case you are JUST WRONG.) And I'm not ashamed to admit I like happy endings. It has to be REALLY GREAT LITERATURE for me to want to read a sad ending in my recreational reading. I get to read plenty of depressing stuff in my "real life."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:57 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


jb: For me, one of the few criticisms I have of Chalion is that it's entirely too optimistic of the relationships between gods and their saints. I'm thinking in specific of The Bacchae.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:23 AM on February 17, 2011


Hey I just last week picked up the one-volume Gormenghast trilogy thanks to an AskMe reccomendation thread. I'm only a hundred pages in or so but it is amazing, it had never occurred to me that fantasy lit could contain real genuine poetry in its prose, and have more in common with Dickens than Tolkien. One of these days I'd like to visit the alternate universe where Peake's stuff became the basis of the Western Fantasy Canon while Tolkien lapsed into obscurity.

Congratulations. Gormenghast is just amazing. On so many levels. "Titus Groan" is narrow, stifling, dense, oppressive, grim... and lyrical. "Gormenghast" is like an orgasm of violence and a fight for life after the repressed, stultifying frustration of the first volume. "Titus Alone" is just so mad and disturbing it hurts.
posted by Decani at 12:07 PM on February 17, 2011


The JRR Tolkien Estate Can Go Fuck Itself
posted by Artw at 4:22 PM on February 23, 2011


Leo Grin continues in Part 2: The Ennobling Fantasy of JRR Tolkien.


Yeskov's essay on his reasons for writing The Last Ringbearer is also interesting.

posted by never used baby shoes at 9:40 AM on February 28, 2011


Grin: They consciously use anti-heroics to drain their fictional worlds of virtues like charity, pity, and goodwill, until their tales become metaphorical Death Valleys in which Tolkien’s “grains of good human corn” perish on the “barren and stony ground.” Having done this, they then claim that The Thirst of Tolkien’s fancy is just a myth perpetuated by out-of-touch conservatives wistfully pining for a time that never was.

Huh, I can't say I really buy this, as fantasy still is often rather moralistic, often superficially so. In LotRs though, Sauron is something of a Macguffin of evil. Good people are naturally good unless tempted by ultimate evil. The result is rather didactic, and Frodo's mercy toward Gollum isn't entirely convincing.

Sam Vimes, in contrast, is naturally a very mean and violent person. But he's a person with a highly developed conscience that values the welfare of the people around him (and family in later novels). His nobility comes from the self-control to act in the interests of the people he serves rather than an innate characteristic. It's this internal conflict that's more convincing and personable to me, at the very least because messy politics of Ankh Morpork better mirror our own moral context. Skuldulgery like shoving a fistful of ginger up an ox's asshole is more realistic than Tolkien's prim and proper guerrillas.

I don't think Vimes is unique by any means. I can name a half-dozen and that's just limited by the fact that I'm a complete dunce at remembering character names for minor books I read last year.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:33 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is he basically in a big sulk because people pointed out he doesn't know what the hell he is talking about?
posted by Artw at 10:49 AM on February 28, 2011


Artw, I had the sense that he is either ignoring or oblivious to the response to the first entry on the subject. He's busy singing the praises of Tolkien and can't hear anyone else.
posted by never used baby shoes at 11:44 AM on February 28, 2011


Oh good, well at least we're not encouraging him.
posted by Artw at 1:19 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


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