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"Yes."
January 10, 2012 12:42 PM   Subscribe

The Fantasy Novelist's Exam: "Ever since J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis created the worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia, it seems like every windbag off the street thinks he can write great, original fantasy, too. The problem is that most of this "great, original fantasy" is actually poor, derivative fantasy. Frankly, we're sick of it, so we've compiled a list of rip-off tip-offs in the form of an exam. We think anybody considering writing a fantasy novel should be required to take this exam first. Answering "yes" to any one question results in failure and means that the prospective novel should be abandoned at once."
posted by Fizz (306 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
Of course, if you think that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis didn't rip any prior fiction off, then you might want to reconsider your definition of "great, original fantasy."
posted by jabberjaw at 12:46 PM on January 10, 2012 [23 favorites]


A bunch of this is essentially ripped off from Diana Wynne Jones' Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Might as well plug it here.
posted by Justinian at 12:47 PM on January 10, 2012 [22 favorites]


I have a feeling this is about the Belgariad, and fuck you that book was awesome when i was 12.
posted by empath at 12:47 PM on January 10, 2012 [16 favorites]


All I know is when I'M an evil overlord my air vents will be too small to crawl through.
posted by The Whelk at 12:47 PM on January 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


Are you writing a work-for-hire for Wizards of the Coast?

I don't know if this made R.A. Salvatore (who I assume is reading this) sad or laugh harder.
posted by griphus at 12:47 PM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


These are probably valid criticisms, but Homer also fails on about a third of them.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:49 PM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Do you ever use the term "mana" in your novel?

O.K., I don't know enough about fantasy lit to understand the reason for this question. Is it really a common term in the fantasy lit world?
posted by yoink at 12:49 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is nothing new under your ripped-off, derivative, multiple suns.
posted by resurrexit at 12:50 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've basically never read fantasy but I am still enjoying this list.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:50 PM on January 10, 2012


Does anybody in your novel fight for two hours straight in full plate armor, then ride a horse for four hours, then delicately make love to a willing barmaid all in the same day?

Of course not. My autobiography, however...
posted by Wolfdog at 12:51 PM on January 10, 2012 [61 favorites]


2. Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage?

3. Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn't know it?


I have no problem with these two. I do have a problem the fact that usually these two involve an angry aunt and a young boy hiding in the kitchen. For fuck's sake, there have to have been other locations to hide in olden times: the barn, the attic, the cellar, why is it ALWAYS a kitchen!?
posted by Fizz at 12:51 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


These are probably valid criticisms, but Homer also fails on about a third of them.

Temporal precedence gives you a pass, I think. Also: trope namers, John Campbell, blah blah blah.
posted by kmz at 12:51 PM on January 10, 2012


47. Do you think you know how feudalism worked but really don't?

If you've written a question having the form of the above, you have no business hectoring anybody else about their writing.
posted by gauche at 12:51 PM on January 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


That quote makes me less inclined to even open this. Seems pretty snotty to me.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:52 PM on January 10, 2012


This makes me happy, only because it reminded me that the Rinkworks is still online and creating content after so, so many years.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:52 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting to see how many Practchett has directly parodied, upended, exploded or otherwise.
posted by The Whelk at 12:52 PM on January 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


If you phrase your ideas vaguely enough you will always and without exception find them used, somewhere, before.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:52 PM on January 10, 2012


I can't remember seeing "mana" even in the (distressingly large) amount of World of Warcraft tie-in fic I've read, let alone the original stuff.

I don't like this list much because it's describing such astoundingly general stuff that it rules out pretty much the whole genre. Although the ten-pound sword thing drives me batshit.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:52 PM on January 10, 2012


I wish someone had taken this before writing The Bible.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:53 PM on January 10, 2012 [14 favorites]


Well, for any work of fiction (not limited to just fantasy), either Shakespeare or the Simpsons have done it (and, ultimately, ripped it off someone else).

We might as well quit writing fiction, right?



Perhaps the funniest thing about the list is how banal and trite the list itself is.
posted by NerdcoreRising at 12:54 PM on January 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


O.K., I don't know enough about fantasy lit to understand the reason for this question. Is it really a common term in the fantasy lit world?

It's not in the fantasy lit world, but it is in the videogame RPG world. It's one of those terms I have come to loathe about videogame storytelling. "Corruption" is another one. Oh, and "darkness!"
posted by JHarris at 12:54 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?

If you don't like that, you take it up with the ENTIRE HISTORY OF LITERATURE EVERYWHERE.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:54 PM on January 10, 2012 [38 favorites]


I get two fails:
Does your hero fall in love with an unattainable woman, whom he later attains? (well, she later attains...) and
Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy? (not exactly, but close enough.)

But, is cookie-cutter high fantasy even still getting published? Isn't it all cookie-cutter urban fantasy and cookie-cutter grimdark fantasy now?
posted by Jeanne at 12:55 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's an interesting question how far down the list The Eye of Argon makes it.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:55 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I guess someone didn't like the Dragonlance books.
posted by COBRA! at 12:55 PM on January 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage?

Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn't know it?

Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?


Hey now, Lloyd Alexander was the first to admit that the Chronicles of Prydain were heavily based on/influenced by Welsh mythology. These and others from the list are pretty archetypical themes that are a lot older than Tolkien/Lewis.
posted by usonian at 12:55 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the linked Filmmaker's Exam, this one made me laugh:

Does your movie have a scene wherein the stars outrun a nuclear explosion?

"Well, I wouldn't say outrun, per se. More... out-fridge. That's OK, right?"
posted by kmz at 12:56 PM on January 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


The TV Trope Litany:

Tropes are Not Bad.

But it helps to be aware of them.

So you don't fall back on lazy shorthand.

And miss an opportunity to work with a Trope in a new way.

That being said destined heroes suck sour sausage
posted by The Whelk at 12:56 PM on January 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


OP: Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?

Cool Papa Bell: If you don't like that, you take it up with the ENTIRE HISTORY OF LITERATURE EVERYWHERE.

Most myths have the advantage of being a hell of a lot more imaginative than most modern fantasy that fulfills this creaky old trope. And messiah figures are grievously overused these days, not just long ago and in galaxies far away.
posted by JHarris at 12:57 PM on January 10, 2012


Was that a defense of the list, JHarris? I just want to make sure this is the argument I was looking for.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:58 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


One problem I have with lists like this is that it criticizes form rather than substance. If you really followed these guidelines you would instantly reject, for example, Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind and follow-ups. Which would be a shame because they are some of the most layered, mature, and nuanced fantasies to be published in a rather long time. Everything is in there for a reason, even what one might initially ignore as throwaway doggerel right at the beginning.

Having a young man grow into great power isn't necessarily a problem. Having him do so in a cliched, derivative way is a problem. And things like characters making "stew" around a campfire are such red flags not because one couldn't overlook flaws like that but because if you don't care enough to get those details right you probably didn't care enough about your prose or other important structural issues.

This is missing the forest for the trees in a way which, oddly, I don't think Wynn Jones does.
posted by Justinian at 1:01 PM on January 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


I guess someone didn't like the Dragonlance books.

Yow you're right. It probably fails about 50% of these.
posted by JHarris at 1:01 PM on January 10, 2012


Does anybody in your novel fight for two hours straight in full plate armor, then ride a horse for four hours, then delicately make love to a willing barmaid all in the same day?

Oh, Corwin.
posted by griphus at 1:01 PM on January 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


The other big objection I have to this list is that my first novel, which I started when I was 13 and is a tremendous pile of reeking cliches, fails none of these. None! (Except maybe the one about the warrioress more comfortable with a sword than a frying pan, sort of, although a) really? We can't have female warriors? and b) she's a princess, not a "warrioress".)
posted by restless_nomad at 1:01 PM on January 10, 2012


(Wynne Jones, sorry)
posted by Justinian at 1:01 PM on January 10, 2012


If you really followed these guidelines you would instantly reject, for example, Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind and follow-ups.

I rejected it after the first 50 pages of clunky prose where absolutely nothing happened.
posted by empath at 1:02 PM on January 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's not in the fantasy lit world, but it is in the videogame RPG world. It's one of those terms I have come to loathe about videogame storytelling. "Corruption" is another one. Oh, and "darkness!"

Huh. Why? Are there a lot of New Zealanders writing for videogames or something?
posted by yoink at 1:04 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're The One, Neo! Look, it's an anagram!
posted by Artw at 1:04 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


restless_nomad: I would say the problem isn't necessarily female warriors but rather the stupid cliched slender, sexy female warriors who none-the-less manage to regularly defeat larger and stronger warriors despite having none of the musculature which such a feat would normally require. And someone managing to avoid pregnancy despite the complete lack of birth control. And so on.

Like I said in my previous comment, it's not the form it's the substance. Female warriors can be done right. They usually aren't.
posted by Justinian at 1:04 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I rejected it after the first 50 pages of clunky prose where absolutely nothing happened.

Your loss. It's perhaps the best fantasy of the last decade. And lots of important things happened. You just don't realize it yet.
posted by Justinian at 1:05 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't want to read a book with any of those tropes, regardless of whether it was original or not.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:05 PM on January 10, 2012


I have a feeling this is about the Belgariad, and fuck you that book was awesome when i was 12.

Ha, I thought this was totally a veiled barb at the Shannara series, and I had pretty much the same reaction.
posted by invitapriore at 1:06 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Xanth, I hear, is full of mana
posted by infini at 1:06 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you ever use the term "mana" in your novel?

About every third paragraph. But the entire plot of my fantasy novel takes place on stage during a Maná concert.
posted by The World Famous at 1:06 PM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I would say the problem isn't necessarily female warriors but rather the stupid cliched slender, sexy female warriors who none-the-less manage to regularly defeat larger and stronger warriors despite having none of the musculature which such a feat would normally require.

Judo flips, dude. Also they have higher agility and ranged weapons!

Also boobplates.
posted by Artw at 1:06 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


is cookie-cutter high fantasy even still getting published?

Yes. But it goes straight to paperback most of the time (with exception of Raymond E. Feist, whose works are so derivative it's not even funny), and isn't really subject to much of a marketing push. So unless you spend a lot of time browsing the appropriate section of your local Barnes & Noble (or used book store), you're likely to miss most of it.

Not that this is a bad thing mind you.
posted by valkyryn at 1:06 PM on January 10, 2012


Female warriors can be done right. They usually aren't.

Oh, sure. But that degree of nuance is why this list is worse than useless. If I were using it as a guide to writing a book, I'd get entirely the wrong idea about pretty much everything.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:07 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


/pushes manuscript for doorstop trilogy into bin.
posted by Artw at 1:07 PM on January 10, 2012


Also boobplates.

Oh, boobplate. Is there nothing you can't accomplish?
posted by Justinian at 1:08 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


And what if you answer "yes" to every single question? I say you have written the most awesome fantasy series ever.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:09 PM on January 10, 2012 [21 favorites]


Oh, boobplate. Is there nothing you can't accomplish?

I wonder if you'd get a pass if you had a character who forged her fryingpans into boobplates?
posted by yoink at 1:09 PM on January 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Didn't Niven's fantasy novels involve the concept of mana?
posted by maxwelton at 1:10 PM on January 10, 2012


If you really followed these guidelines you would instantly reject, for example, Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind and follow-ups.

You say that like it's a bad thing.
posted by aspo at 1:11 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Everything The Whelk said, except the last bit about destined heroes. You can even do destiny right, as long as the tension of the story doesn't rest on the (pre-determined) outcome. For example, create the tension around a shifting political landscape, or on which path is taken to reach the outcome. This isn't anything new, since historical dramas/fictions have to deal with it all the time.
posted by forforf at 1:11 PM on January 10, 2012


All you Rothfuss haters need to check yourselves before your wreck yourselves. Because I am getting ready to cut you.
posted by Justinian at 1:12 PM on January 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


you have rendered me unintelligible. More unintelligible than usually anyway.
posted by Justinian at 1:12 PM on January 10, 2012


'kay. Got through the first fifty or so questions before I decided that whoever wrote this simply doesn't like fantasy. Think I'm done now.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:13 PM on January 10, 2012


(Though naturally I'll be back fifty times today to see of people favorited or responded to my dismissive comment.)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:13 PM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Do your characters spend an inordinate amount of time journeying from place to place?

That covers half of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows", doesn't it? Or does wandering in the wilderness not count as journeying?

Certainly there are plenty of good fantasy novels that would fail this test, but it's good to consider your genre's cliches when writing. (Sort of like "Unforgiven" is a solid western that manages to include a whole lot of western cliches.)
posted by rmd1023 at 1:14 PM on January 10, 2012


Is your novel based on the adventures of your role-playing group?

90% of all genre fiction would cease to exist if this was a real rule.

I am firmly in favor of this rule.
posted by winna at 1:15 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I take this list with a grain of salt.

Cookie-cutter high fantasy has evidently been replaced by cookie-cutter paranormal mystery/romance. I'll finally give the Twilight haters credit in that, when I was shopping for gifts, B&N didn't have a single copy of Who Fears Death but an entire shelf marked "teen paranormal romance."

Still though, my take is that if you look at what gets nominated for the awards, fantasy fiction is likely more diverse than it's ever been.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:16 PM on January 10, 2012


Didn't Niven's fantasy novels involve the concept of mana?

Yes, actually, good call. Although his novels were as much spoofs of the genre as serious entries, so I'm not entirely sure they qualify. (And his concept of mana was actually pretty brilliant.)
posted by restless_nomad at 1:17 PM on January 10, 2012


Shorter:
Answering "yes". . . results in failure and means that the prospective novel should be abandoned at once.

1: Is it after 1970 and you've written a fantasy novel?
 
posted by Herodios at 1:17 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


The D&D magic system is straight out of Vance.
posted by Artw at 1:18 PM on January 10, 2012


OP: Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?

Cool Papa Bell: If you don't like that, you take it up with the ENTIRE HISTORY OF LITERATURE EVERYWHERE.

JHarris: Most myths have the advantage of being a hell of a lot more imaginative than most modern fantasy that fulfills this creaky old trope. And messiah figures are grievously overused these days, not just long ago and in galaxies far away.


I would think that it's important to distinguish between those tropes that are repeated because people are not creative enough to come up with something new, and those that are repeated because they are universally meaningful and hit at a core need for resolution in the audience. I think that people might be attracted to a messiah figure because it addresses something innate (whatever it is that overcoming crazy odds from a disadvataged beginning addresses) that might not have an easy replacement in the human psyche, which is why it keeps coming up. I could be wrong about that, though.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:19 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


"orken or dwerrows" is great.
posted by alloneword at 1:19 PM on January 10, 2012


Man, I was talking to Shakespeare, and I was all like "bro, you've got to stop readingHolinshed Chronicles because literally, like, all your plays are derived from there."

And he was all like, "Zounds, sirrah, that is not a fair use of 'literally.'"

Just like him to nitpick my grammar so he can weasel out of admitting that almost none of his plays were based on original ideas. I mean, he even based some on history man. No original ideas in that one's head.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:19 PM on January 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Star Wars is pretty much the ultimate example of a Destined Hero story, but if you watch it it never seems like the actions of Luke and the others are irrelevant to moving the plot forwards, they don't just win because they were fated to win, which is the real Destined Hero problem.
posted by Artw at 1:20 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, man, making lists on the internet to document literary crimes has been so done to death. Get an original idea, FPP dudes.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:20 PM on January 10, 2012


...straight out of Vance.

Okay I just got the idea for the absolutely worst NWA parody anyone has ever conceived.
posted by griphus at 1:22 PM on January 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


Really? Am I the only one here who likes cookies? Cookies are like mana from heaven. Huh. More cookies for me, I guess. *eats cookie*
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:23 PM on January 10, 2012


Do you ever use the term "mana" in your novel?

O.K., I don't know enough about fantasy lit to understand the reason for this question. Is it really a common term in the fantasy lit world?

Frequent use of the term is not necessarily a bad thing.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:23 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I used this to evaluate the role-playing campaign I'm running. Skipping the questions about role-playing games themselves, I only missed one. In my defense, it really does take a freaking long time to travel if you don't have modern methods.
posted by Jpfed at 1:24 PM on January 10, 2012


Does anybody in your novel fight for two hours straight in full plate armor, then ride a horse for four hours, then delicately make love to a willing barmaid all in the same day?

Oh, Corwin.


Too be fair, he was something more than human.

The Exam

Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages?


If LOTR, or Harry Potter, or worst of all the dark tower series were written at a pace commensurate with any of the Amber books, they would have been infinitely better. And Rowling, jesus christ did people entirely stop editing her after the first book succeeded? "You know what we need, another 100 pages of quiddicth"
posted by Chekhovian at 1:24 PM on January 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


The D&D magic system is straight out of Vance.

Vance actually had a lot more flavor in his spells, but it does kind of shed some light on what Gygax was going for when he designed it. (In fact, the magic system referred to as Vancian magic only really applies in the first couple of Dying Earth books. In fact, really only the first.)

A think a lot of this is ranting, not just against fantasy cliches, but first RPG and then videogame cliches that have been backported to literature. Remember that Gygax explicitly created D&D as an amalgam of his favorite fantasy literature. (Appendix N is more than enough proof of that.)

So, any writing based on D&D is going to fail at least a few items on this list automatically. That doesn't necessarily mean it's impossible to make to write good fantasy based off of a roleplaying game, or even D&D, but you have to recognize the game's basis and explain why, for instance, there are dungeons everywhere and they're full of loot.
posted by JHarris at 1:25 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want to see the sci-fi version of this.

Does "a forgetful wizard" describe any of the characters in your novel? => Does an alien race far beyond the tech level of humans who refuse to help humans just because describe any of the characters in your novel?

Does your novel contain orcs, elves, dwarves, or halflings? => Does your novel contain droids, humans who have achieved telepathy, and humans who have edited their genes to resemble other species while remaining essentially human?

Do you ever use the term "plate mail" in your novel? => Do you ever use the term "wormhole" in your novel?

At any point in your novel, do the main characters take a shortcut through ancient dwarven mines? => At any point your novel, do the main characters hide out in an asteroid belt?

Could one of your main characters tell the other characters something that would really help them in their quest but refuses to do so just so it won't break the plot? => Could an alien race/benevolent AI tell the other characters something that would really help them in their quest but refuses to do so just so it won't break the plot?
posted by lyra4 at 1:25 PM on January 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


In other shocking news, Tolkien might have been cribbing works like Havelok the Dane and Bevis of Hampton for ideas, and not wholly original himself. Police suspect he gained access to the texts through his position as professor at a popular university in Oxfordshire. The CPS is considering launching a prosecution against Tolkien for writing while under the influence of Class A Middle English Literature.
posted by Jehan at 1:28 PM on January 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


AzraelBrown: This makes me happy, only because it reminded me that the Rinkworks is still online and creating content after so, so many years.

Yes! I clicked this link and went "OMG! Rinkworks!" What a blast from the past. We used to get all excited every time they updated the "Book-A-Minute" and "Movie-A-Minute" pages...

On topic, I re-read the Belgariad last year and I have to say, while I enjoyed it a lot more when I was 12, I was pleasantly surprised to discover (with an adult's judgment) how well-written it was. Yes, there's a lot of cliché and simplistic tropes in the books, but the actual writing was smooth and well-edited. I'm a picky reader and I find I don't enjoy fiction anywhere near as much as I used to, and the biggest reason is because a lot of it is poorly written (or perhaps it's not edited very well) these days. (Don't even start me on e-books, good lord, a lot of stuff going straight to e-book is so atrocious I can't believe people can read it without getting headaches.)
posted by flex at 1:29 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


If it ain't Mundane SF it's basically fantasy anyway.
posted by Artw at 1:29 PM on January 10, 2012


I wonder if you'd get a pass if you had a character who forged her fryingpans into boobplates?

I was thinking of having my fantasy novel take place after a great war in which many of the principal combatants were amazons of some sort. The main character would be one of a group of veterans who've beaten their boobplates back into frying pans.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:30 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Does "a forgetful wizard" describe any of the characters in your novel?

He started to, but then he got long-winded and off topic and forgot who he was describing, and... oops, sorry. Thought we were talking about Nathaniel Hawthorne there for minute.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:31 PM on January 10, 2012



If it ain't Mundane SF it's basically fantasy anyway.

If it is fantasy then just come up with exciting new sources for FTL travel, like bikini parties, getting a coughing fit during a concert, or the arrangement of certain types of lawn chairs!
posted by The Whelk at 1:32 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, anyway, I just started reading The Hobbit to the kid. It's ace!

(so much better than that bloated Lord of the Rings crap)
posted by Artw at 1:32 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


TURNS OUT ADORABLE ORPHANS MADE EXCELLENT SPACESHIP FUEL.
posted by The Whelk at 1:32 PM on January 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


If it is fantasy then just come up with exciting new sources for FTL travel, like bikini parties, getting a coughing fit during a concert, or the arrangement of certain types of lawn chairs!

Pretty sure Dr Who has done at least two of those.
posted by Artw at 1:33 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


This.

"Is your name Robert Jordan and you lied like a dog to get this far?"
posted by entropos at 1:34 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


And Rowling, jesus christ did people entirely stop editing her after the first book succeeded? "You know what we need, another 100 pages of quiddicth"

Oh man you are not kidding. After the first book, Rowling had about 400-600 pages worth of story left, but she published, what, 1800 pages? And the first half of the last book is mostly Harry and Friends Go Camping.
posted by nushustu at 1:35 PM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I thought Wise Man's Fear dragged.
posted by josher71 at 1:37 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that people might be attracted to a messiah figure because it addresses something innate (whatever it is that overcoming crazy odds from a disadvataged beginning addresses) that might not have an easy replacement in the human psyche, which is why it keeps coming up. I could be wrong about that, though.

Certainly you could do that. I don't generally see it, but it's possible. The key is examination, to realize that you're writing it and to take a look at it, figure out its implications and causes, and see if you need to address unconscious assumptions, or overturn cliches. Or hell, you could even unabashedly embrace the cliches, but you should still acknowledge them, if only to preserve the reader's faith in the author.

One of my favorite things about the Discworld Watch novels is how it plays with Cpl./Cpt. Carrot's status as the rightful king of Ankh-Morpork. He is fully and obviously a Destined One, and successfully rejects it in order to keep on being a beat cop. Pratchett obviously does see the cliches, and gets narrative mileage out of the reader expecting Carrot will step out and reveal his royalty at any time, which he never does.
posted by JHarris at 1:38 PM on January 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


Wise Man's Fear

Yeah, it really did. I thought that it was punctuated by moments of brilliance, but overall, fell short of the first book.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:38 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh man you are not kidding. After the first book, Rowling had about 400-600 pages worth of story left, but she published, what, 1800 pages? And the first half of the last book is mostly Harry and Friends Go Camping.

I've heard it characterized as "Harry Potter fucks off in the woods for half a book."

Which made me laugh.
posted by tylerfulltilt at 1:39 PM on January 10, 2012


He could really subvert that by having Carrot permanently run over by a large wagon.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:40 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, anyway, I just started reading The Hobbit to the kid. It's ace!

(so much better than that bloated Lord of the Rings crap)


You know what? I read the Hobbit in sixth grade and was absolutely charmed by it. Then I started Fellowship and zzzzzz
posted by griphus at 1:40 PM on January 10, 2012


58. Does anybody in your novel ever stab anybody with a scimitar?

If you know what I mean.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:42 PM on January 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm working through LOTR for the first time right now. And, yeah, it's great but it's not what you'd call a thriller.
posted by josher71 at 1:42 PM on January 10, 2012


I agree on The Hobbit so much. It is a wonderful story. The Hobbit Gandalf is so much more fun than the LotR Gandalf! I'm a bit worried that the movie will try to ape the LotR films.
posted by JHarris at 1:47 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


And things like characters making "stew" around a campfire are such red flags

The Orcs sat around the campfire, consoling each other. Steward had been so brave, and the winter so long.
posted by bswinburn at 1:49 PM on January 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


I fail to qualify as a geek (well, what most people think of as a geek, anyway), and I've always pointed at "failed to read LOTR" as one reason. The Hobbit is great, but LOTR bored the snot out of me, and I never managed to get through it.
posted by flex at 1:49 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The rangers sat around the campfire, stew long forgotten, massive daisy chain raging on into the night.
posted by The Whelk at 1:50 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Could one of the more gastronomically-inclined MeFites explain why you can't make stew around a campfire?
posted by griphus at 1:50 PM on January 10, 2012


The rangers sat around the campfire, stew long forgotten, massive daisy chain raging on into the night.

NHL thread is over there, Whelk.
posted by griphus at 1:51 PM on January 10, 2012


I thought that the link explained it -- it takes a couple of hours to make a good stew, so it doesn't work particularly well as traveling food.

I always just assumed it was really bad stew.
posted by Jeanne at 1:52 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Clearly, bad fantasy authors mistake "campfire" for "crockpot".
posted by flex at 1:53 PM on January 10, 2012


Oh, hell, I missed it in the original link and thought you had brought it up generally.
posted by griphus at 1:54 PM on January 10, 2012


You can. But a good stew takes many hours to cook. Most travelers don't have the kind of time to develop a good stew after traveling all day.

Bad soup with questionable meat and mana thickeners, on the hand...
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:54 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fine food for traveling through the Wastes! Lots of ...stale bread and ..flat beer and ...dried berries that the ants got into and the Orcs stole the last of our pepper and salt, so we're down to a suspicious potato and a rat I stomped to death last night.
posted by The Whelk at 1:57 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Justinian is right, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is much better than this derivative shite.

All I know is when I'M an evil overlord my air vents will be too small to crawl through.

It's number 2 on the Evil Overlord's List.

Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages?

In some of the best books I've ever read nothing much happen for most of the book. China Mountain Zhang for example.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:57 PM on January 10, 2012


Actually, stew is not a bad food for travel, as long as you cook it beforehand. You can salt and season it pretty heavily, and then cook it down to almost dry. Without refrigeration, it is one of the safer options. The other is just cutting jerky or salt pork into boiling water with some sort of vegetable or beans. It's not really stew, but it's quick.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:57 PM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


All you Rothfuss haters need to check yourselves before your wreck yourselves. Because I am getting ready to cut you.

I mean this in all seriousness, because it's sitting on my bookshelf at home now, still unread, and I might give it another shot:

What's good about it? I gave up on Wheel of Time half-way through one book and that just seemed like more of the same to me. I don't even remember much about it, mostly just the pedestrian prose.
posted by empath at 1:59 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a slightly related piece on the origins of Tolkien et al. from Adam Gopnik / New Yorker ready to be read here. At least it starts with Tolkien and drifts on to Eragon-land.
posted by KMB at 1:59 PM on January 10, 2012


The Wizards sell a magical potion called "Moh-no sode-ium glut-ta-mate" which makes almost any spoiled meat stew taste like mana from heaven, you still throw it up four hours later but at least you feel good about it once.
posted by The Whelk at 1:59 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Could one of the more gastronomically-inclined MeFites explain why you can't make stew around a campfire?

There's no reason why you couldn't, given a second pan and an hour of time while people are setting up tents and getting their armor off and such. It wouldn't be particularly amazing stew, but it when I make stew at home it's pretty damn good and doesn't take more than an hour and a half once everything's cut up. It really doesn't take that long to boil vegetables soft.
posted by kafziel at 2:00 PM on January 10, 2012


58. Does anybody in your novel ever stab anybody with a scimitar?

If you know what I mean.


Does sir dress to the left or to the right?
 
posted by Herodios at 2:02 PM on January 10, 2012


What's good about it?

Here's my fairly favorable Goodreads review where I try to explain why I like it. Short version: it does everything I want an epic fantasy to do, and I like epic fantasy. So it's sort of the perfect preaching-to-the-choir book for me.

I wrote that before reading Wise Man's Fear, and I was a trifle disappointed with the latter, but I'm still on board.

(For perspective, see The Way of Kings, which is the first volume in a multi-book epic that I will no doubt read (although not until the series is finished, because I am so done with that,) in which nothing of consequence happens. It's a thousand pages of setup. And I liked it. So you may want to calibrate accordingly.)
posted by restless_nomad at 2:08 PM on January 10, 2012


I would think that traveling food would be food that you can eat quickly and that has a lot of calories. I know a lot of people like campfires, but when I am in the wilderness I pack so at least half my suppers require no fire at all and when they do require fire it is 1/2 hour or less. Move all day, eat as fast as possible, sleep. An hour or more of cooking means less sleep, which I would guess would be high on the desirable list. Mind you it makes for pretty tedious story telling. Stew in the wilderness is for when you have time to goof around and lots of pack-space.
posted by edgeways at 2:10 PM on January 10, 2012


Actually, using a scimitar to stab could be a surprising and effective tactic. Also useful in sabre fencing.
posted by clockzero at 2:12 PM on January 10, 2012


It's not so much that the ideas this list lampoons are unoriginal as that they've become boring. A talented enough writer can probably take all the tired, trite fantasy cliches and make a compelling novel out of them. But Sturgeon's Law being what it is, that is unlikely, and it means a lot of high fantasy blends together into a bland mess.

I don't bother to read most fantasy anymore unless it's been a) highly recommended, or b) takes place in, seriously, any setting other than generic medieval fake Europe. Set your high (or grimdark or even urban) fantasy anywhere other than a Europe analogue, and bam, you've probably avoided a good portion of the tedious cliches high fantasy is usually riddled with.
posted by yasaman at 2:12 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I'm sick of Jerky! We've got all day, lets forage!"

"Okay, I found these mushrooms-"

"Careful! Those are enchanted!"

"What?"

"Yeah friend of ate some of them once and got so enchanted he thought he was a dragon."

"What happened?"

"HE FLEW AWAY."
posted by The Whelk at 2:13 PM on January 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I would literally buy any fantasy novel revolving around Slavic mythology and taking place in pre-Christian Eastern Europe/Western Asia on the spot.
posted by griphus at 2:13 PM on January 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Name of the Wind really picks up once he starts his narrative. The first 45 pages are just setup for that, and honestly could/should have been cropped down into five or so.

It might just come down to his comfort with the POV. As soon as he started using "I" it became a lot easier to read.

The book as a whole was notable to me because it avoided most of the cliches while feeling very 'practical' about learning magic and the like. I mean, the laws of similarity and contagion aren't exactly new (Harry Turtledove's one author I know who's used them), but the image he built of a school of magic really seemed solid.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 2:13 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whoa, Rinkworks. I was a regular on their message board twelve years ago. I'm glad to see they're still around, but embarrassed to see that they've archived stupid things I said when I was twenty.
posted by Toothless Willy at 2:16 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does your story involve a number of different races, each of which has exactly one country, one ruler, and one religion?

Why does the list switch to Star Trek near the end?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:17 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think Rothfuss is really, really bad. Really bad. The world-building seems like it might be OK, I guess. The main character is a boring demigod. The dialog is stilted. The treatment of women is as painful as it gets. The ending seems like it was tacked on from a completely unrelated short story he just happened to have hanging around.

I have a headsplittingly hard time realizing that people I otherwise respect can read The Name of the Wind and not absolutely hate it. But it's true, they do. I just don't get it.
posted by gurple at 2:20 PM on January 10, 2012


(quite obviously, I only read the first book. Perhaps Kvothe finds some magic that turns Rothfuss into a good author, in the second book)
posted by gurple at 2:21 PM on January 10, 2012


gurple - ask me about House of Leaves some time.
posted by Artw at 2:22 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Artw, did Kvothe build a house out of leaves through sheer willpower and a vastly complicated mind?
posted by gurple at 2:25 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


USING AN EPISTOLARY STYLE AND A BUNCH OF HACKNEYED TYPOGRAPHY GIMMICKS DOES NOT MAKE YOU A GENIUS! GRRAAAAAH!
posted by Artw at 2:28 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm glad to hear that Rothfuss goes back to pick up some of those dropped bits in Name of the Wind because it's a bunch of poorly connected vignettes. Some of those vignettes are all right; Kvothe and whatsherbutt's little detective adventure with the dragonette was like a classic sci fi short story, boy and girl caught out after dark on Colony World 35—but they don't add up to much. Needs more spider-things, less disappearing up Kvothe's butthole. And Bast is annoying. And I keep imagining David Tennant as Elodin. And one of the characters says, "Good times" in that bro-ish way.
posted by fleacircus at 2:28 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Could one of the more gastronomically-inclined MeFites explain why you can't make stew around a campfire?

On the one hand, many stew recipes call for an extended cooking time. On the other hand, if you simmer any kind of meat, fat, flour, and water you'll get something that can appropriately be called a stew, and we have stew recipes from the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Modern hikers take pride in the equivalent of a forced march. The logistics of pre-modern travel with working animals or foraging usually demanded more downtime in camp.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:29 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


did Kvothe build a house out of leaves

Technically, it was a house of barley rice, with green pepper walls and water ice. Tables of paper wood, windows of light. And everything emptying into Twyleth.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:30 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


OH, AN UNRELIABLE NARRATOR AND A LACK OF PROPER RESOLUTION, VERY ORIGINAL.
posted by Artw at 2:33 PM on January 10, 2012


Rule 14. Do not argue with trolls - it means that they win.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:33 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that people might be attracted to a messiah figure because it addresses something innate (whatever it is that overcoming crazy odds from a disadvataged beginning addresses) that might not have an easy replacement in the human psyche, which is why it keeps coming up. I could be wrong about that, though.

It's probably no coincidence that messianic ideation is one of the more common psychotic delusions. From my amateur armchair, I'd suggest that existentially it's because it satisfies a craving for a purposeful, teleological universe where the individual has a destiny & a purpose. Put that on psychosis steroids, and voila - the individual is the saviour of the human race, or perhaps the entire cosmos.

It's not unlike everybody delving into past lives earnestly believing that they were royalty or some important historic figure in an earlier incarnation. No way could they be a pig farmer who died young from drinking dirty water.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:33 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is that so?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:34 PM on January 10, 2012


Not you, Ubu - was trying to pick a fight with Mister Fabulous.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:35 PM on January 10, 2012


Them's fighting words!

On preview: phew.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:37 PM on January 10, 2012


Also, the water wasn't dirty. It was cursed. With pig shit.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:39 PM on January 10, 2012


This is why I'm not reading anything more of Goodkind's.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:43 PM on January 10, 2012


The first person to invent the enchanted thermos is going to make a killing off wandering adventurers.
posted by The Whelk at 2:44 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is that so?

[silence]
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:45 PM on January 10, 2012


What's good about it? I gave up on Wheel of Time half-way through one book and that just seemed like more of the same to me. I don't even remember much about it, mostly just the pedestrian prose.

It's exactly the sort of controlled narrative that is missing in a lot of fantasy. Every bit is there for a reason even if you don't know what it is yet. Jo Walton, whose opinion on these matters I respect immensely, has been doing an obsessively detailed chapter by chapter analysis of Rothfuss for 8 months now. Because this is a work which rewards extremely close reading.

I think both Jo and I would take great exception to the idea that the prose is pedestrian. For example, of the prologue to WMF she writes:
Damn this is clever! It’s also worth noting that it’s extremely beautiful writing. It’s doing all this thematic stuff and plot stuff and it is beautiful too.
The prologue to NotW is similar... except you don't realize the thematic and plot points you are being fed because we're so used to meaningless atmosphere being fed to us in fantasy.

Here is the intro to Jo's re-read although, obviously, if you never got more than 50 pages in you're not going to want to read 50 pages of analysis. Still, I think it provides good evidence that there is more to the books than you are giving credit for even if it isn't your cup of tea. Nothing wrong with that.
posted by Justinian at 2:47 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Short version: it does everything I want an epic fantasy to do, and I like epic fantasy. So it's sort of the perfect preaching-to-the-choir book for me.

Now that I read that, I think I know why I just bounced off the book now. Videogames scratch that itch for me.

I'm perfectly willing to put up with almost unlimited amounts of cliche when I'm the one swinging the sword. I need a book to really do something interesting stylistically to grab me.
posted by empath at 2:48 PM on January 10, 2012


House Of Leaves was a fun experiment. Not "genius", but I enjoyed it.
posted by everichon at 2:50 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read House of Leaves as genre trash, and loved every second of it. It's not literature, but it's fucking awesome.
posted by empath at 2:52 PM on January 10, 2012


Artw and I are going to team up and murder House of Leaves one of these days.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:52 PM on January 10, 2012


It's not unlike everybody delving into past lives earnestly believing that they were royalty or some important historic figure in an earlier incarnation. No way could they be a pig farmer who died young from drinking dirty water.

See, I would like fantasy to strike a balance between The Chosen One who must save the Entire Realm and the pig farmer who died drinking dirty (cursed) water. Because I think we can agree there are way too many fantasy stories with the protagonist/group of protagonists who must save the kingdom from eternal darkness/evil/corruption by finding the magical object/restoring the monarchy/restoring magic/etc.

Can't we have the "smaller" stories instead? Does everything have to be THE FATE OF THE WORLD RESTS UPON IT all the time? Perhaps we could follow the adventures of Yon Magical Kingdom's spymaster, who deals with significant power struggles with neighboring magical nations without turning it into Good vs. Evil and the Fate of All Humankind. Or perhaps we can read about a guild of magicians' rise to economic and social prominence.

I know there are fantasy novels out there with these kinds of premises, I'd just really like to see more of them, and to see less of the classic, boring Chosen One type narrative.
posted by yasaman at 2:52 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


( goes back write sec script for fantasy sitcom that takes place in a tavern)
posted by The Whelk at 2:54 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was such a great show.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:55 PM on January 10, 2012


Also The Books Of Enchantment have good little stories about a castle wide cooking contest and royals that hate all the pomp and they are just Super Charming.
posted by The Whelk at 2:55 PM on January 10, 2012


Thank you for this thread. I have now determined to write a novel about a chosen one who finds a way to deconaminate a pig farmer's drinking water.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:56 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


You're writing Fallout 3 expansion packs?
posted by The Whelk at 2:57 PM on January 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


See, I would like fantasy to strike a balance between The Chosen One who must save the Entire Realm and the pig farmer who died drinking dirty (cursed) water.

How about an Assistant Pig-Keeper who saves the Entire Realm?
posted by gurple at 2:57 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Counterpoint: Name of the Wind is narrated by the world's biggest Gary Stu in the history of Gary Stus. By the fifth or sixth time he spends five minutes doing something and turn out to bt is best x ever in the history of xdom it gets a bit old.

(And I'm not going to get into the author's treatment of women.)
posted by aspo at 2:59 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thank you for this thread. I have now determined to write a novel about a chosen one who finds a way to deconaminate a pig farmer's drinking water.

I would actually read the (heh) shit out of a fantasy novel about the quest for magical means of improving public health. Some enterprising young wizard who decides that all that flashy dragon-slaying, evil-vanquishing magic isn't for her, instead she's going to fucking build a magical sewer and water treatment system.
posted by yasaman at 3:02 PM on January 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


I have a feeling this is about the Belgariad, and fuck you that book was awesome when i was 12.

Ha, I thought this was totally a veiled barb at the Shannara series, and I had pretty much the same reaction.


I think that's sort of the point.

Honestly my favorite part of the list was trying to guess what book they were trying to purge the shame of having enjoyed as a teen-ager for each question.

I was surprised at the lack of "did you invent a language just to write bad poems in it?"
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:04 PM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I read House of Leaves as genre trash, and loved every second of it.

yeah, i can see that. not a lot that hasn't been done elsewhere better, but I can see hoe it would be enjoyable. The book by itself is fairly innocuous, it's when someone start talking about what a unique work of genius it is that the rage factor kicks in. Especially if that someone is Mark Z. Danielewski.
posted by Artw at 3:06 PM on January 10, 2012


"did you invent a language just to write bad poems in it?"

They did kind of exclude Tolkien.
posted by Artw at 3:07 PM on January 10, 2012


Name of the Wind is narrated by the world's biggest Gary Stu in the history of Gary Stus. By the fifth or sixth time he spends five minutes doing something and turn out to bt is best x ever in the history of xdom it gets a bit old.

I see what you are saying, but in a way, the story is meant to show how really, he's not what you describe. He's pretty good, but he's not mythical good (kind of the whole point of him narrating his story, actually, to dispel the rumors. Which makes the Felurian episode in the second book frustrating, actually, as it seems to run counter to this aim of the story.) The second book also goes out of the way to either show how's he's only average at some things compared to those who are are really good, or that there are things that he can't do at all, despite how hard he tries (mathematics, for example). I think he actually fails a couple of courses at some point due to lack of competency.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:08 PM on January 10, 2012


Just wondering...a real turn off for me in fantasy or science fiction literature are authors that go overboard describing things and actions. That works fine for old time radio, but I have a fine imagination that is perfectly capable of, well, imagining. Are there any writers that avoid this trap that people can recommend? I really like authors with an economical style of writing.
posted by Calzephyr at 3:09 PM on January 10, 2012


"did you invent a language just to write bad poems in it?"

They did kind of exclude Tolkien.


I was thinking of Shakespeare.
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:10 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Are there any writers that avoid this trap that people can recommend? I really like authors with an economical style of writing.

Yes.
posted by gurple at 3:10 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


gurple
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:11 PM on January 10, 2012


I really like authors with an economical style of writing.
Roger Zelazny
Michael Swanwick
posted by Chekhovian at 3:11 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Iron Dragon's Daughter:

Swanwick admits having written it both as a homage to J.R.R. Tolkien and in reaction to a handful of writers he claims exploit Tolkien's milieu and the readers' imaginations with derivative, commercial fantasy:

[...] The recent slew of interchangeable Fantasy trilogies has hit me in much the same way that discovering that the woods I used to play in as a child have been cut down to make way for shoddy housing developments did.

posted by Chekhovian at 3:14 PM on January 10, 2012


Whoa, Rinkworks. I was a regular on their message board twelve years ago. I'm glad to see they're still around, but embarrassed to see that they've archived stupid things I said when I was twenty.

You think you've got it bad, they've got stupid archived stuff I said when I was about fourteen. It is...pretty stupid.

And written under a different username that I will never, ever reveal for fear of Google
posted by ZsigE at 3:14 PM on January 10, 2012


Of course, if you think that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis didn't rip any prior fiction off, then you might want to reconsider your definition of "great, original fantasy."

Yeah but if today's authors stole stuff from the stories Tolkien and Lewis ripped-off instead of taking it 2nd and 3rd hand via those two and their imitators, we wouldn't need lists like this.
posted by straight at 3:14 PM on January 10, 2012


"Some enterprising young wizard who decides that all that flashy dragon-slaying, evil-vanquishing magic isn't for her, instead she's going to fucking build a magical sewer and water treatment system."

L.E. Modesitt, The White Order. Use of magic firebolts for efficient sewer cleaning. (A good chunk of the Recluce series is about using magic in utterly mundane tasks, like cabinetry. I find it charming as hell.)
posted by restless_nomad at 3:17 PM on January 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have now determined to write a novel about a chosen one who finds a way to deconaminate a pig farmer's drinking water.

Isn't that Fallout 3, but with mutant two-headed, grotesquely uddered, cows?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:18 PM on January 10, 2012


I see what you are saying, but in a way, the story is meant to show how really, he's not what you describe. He's pretty good, but he's not mythical good (kind of the whole point of him narrating his story, actually, to dispel the rumors. Which makes the Felurian episode in the second book frustrating, actually, as it seems to run counter to this aim of the story.) The second book also goes out of the way to either show how's he's only average at some things compared to those who are are really good, or that there are things that he can't do at all, despite how hard he tries (mathematics, for example). I think he actually fails a couple of courses at some point due to lack of competency.

A lot of this is some of the most carefully handled lantern-hanging I've ever read, though, so that Rothfuss is able to then shovel in more power fantasy without qualm. It's the whole "I make fun of myself once so that I can make fun of everyone else forever trick." Kvothe is shown to be not quite perfect, but as we are digesting this fact he does five awesome things effortlessly.
posted by Theodore Sign at 3:21 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the Wizard of Earthsea ran out of mana though.
posted by infini at 3:21 PM on January 10, 2012


lantern-hanging

That is a great word (I had to look it up), and I don't think I disagree with anything that you've said. It is a bit different than being a Gary Stu, though, which would be less preferable to what you mention.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:32 PM on January 10, 2012


"Some enterprising young wizard who decides that all that flashy dragon-slaying, evil-vanquishing magic isn't for her, instead she's going to fucking build a magical sewer and water treatment system."

Sweat pooled on Kvothe's furrowed brow. He was weaving so many threads together in his mind. Weaving just three of these threads would bread most men's will, and there were roughly sixteen threads involved, so Kvothe's mind was at least as complicated as eight normal men's.

"Kvothe, the vessel is about to burst! You have to do something!"

Kvothe couldn't spare any effort for speech, but he had been using his spare time in between classes, music, and teaching eighteen different languages to orphans at the same time, to master the art of knitting. He quickly knitted the word "silence" into a blanket and showed it to Denna, who quieted, chastened.

"There!" he gasped, "It's done." The massive water tank had held. The pipes were in place and connected, held there by the force of Kvothe's thought. He placed his hand upon the lacquered handle.

"Now, who would like to try the first flush?"
posted by gurple at 3:33 PM on January 10, 2012 [21 favorites]


(Kvothe isn't good at math)
posted by gurple at 3:33 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


all fiction is genre fiction so i don't read fiction at all

friendship is a fiction so i dont have any of those either :(
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:42 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was six books deep in the Wheel of Time when I moved to Texas and realized Washington weed was what made those books readable.
posted by EatTheWeak at 3:43 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


haha! My fantasy novel is in a world filled with violent, barbaric Norks! And stocky, fierce Garves, and the lithe, magical Telven!

And the hero isn't looking for a magical, world saving orb to use, either! His quest is to find a map to where it is. So there! Pbbbbt!

But first, sixty pages describing the history of the universe...
posted by Xoebe at 3:47 PM on January 10, 2012


"Now, who would like to try the first flush?"

No flush toilets in fantasy!
posted by empath at 3:49 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey if Ankh Morpork can have a completely plausible telegraph/email system then fantasy worlds can have flush toilets.

Actually maybe that's what The Undertaking is all about.....
posted by The Whelk at 3:53 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


No flush toilets in fantasy!

*scraps Plumber's World trilogy prequel*
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:55 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Apparently, flush technology was employed as early as Tudor England.

gurple, I would (if you'll excuse the pun) read the shit out of your novel.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:57 PM on January 10, 2012


Name of the Wind is narrated by the world's biggest Gary Stu in the history of Gary Stus. By the fifth or sixth time he spends five minutes doing something and turn out to bt is best x ever in the history of xdom it gets a bit old.

I see what you are saying, but in a way, the story is meant to show how really, he's not what you describe.


Bah. The Wise Man's Fear was laughable fanboy wankery. "Oooh, Kvothe!," giggled all the maidens, including, like the totally hot dark elf from whom no man had ever escaped. And then they all jumped on his penis. And Kvothe was like, "That's cool ladies, but I really only want that one unobtainable chick who won't fuck me and oh yeah, I have a manly mission to pursue!"
posted by Squeak Attack at 4:01 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The placement of toilets was a heated issue in a lot of medieval towns, people would position their indoor outhouses in a window box that hung over their neighbors property, making all the waste their responsibility. Settlements over the ocean or lake have always been kind of " flush". And let's not forget chamber pots, communal party pissing into, and the hurling out of windows thereof.


I would so read a fantasy novel about someone trying to improve the nature of shitting in the kingdom.
posted by The Whelk at 4:02 PM on January 10, 2012


Kvothe doesn't always drink beer. But when he does, he prefers Dos Equis.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:03 PM on January 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


I like taking tropes that are overused and fucking around with them, said the guy whose next novel is titled Redshirts.

Which is to say I look at a list like that and think I could have fun with those rather than never do any of those. Some random list writer is not the boss of me.
posted by jscalzi at 4:04 PM on January 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


I would so read a fantasy novel about someone trying to improve the nature of shitting in the kingdom.

Isn't that what The Dark is Rising was about?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:04 PM on January 10, 2012


I'd add to this list, "Does the protagonist have an influential mentor who is killed by the supreme evil bad guy, yet continues to be a source of inspiration to him?"*

I'm really sick of that one.

Oh, and the Filmmaker's list needs an addendum as well: "Is your name M. Night Shyamalan?"

*Every time I've watched Star Wars, it's bothered me that nice Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen Jerkyface, who have raised Luke since he was a baby, die off and it's just good riddance to them, but Obi Wan Kenobi, who Luke knew for like, a week, continues to haunt him all over the place for the span of the trilogy.

I mean, I know Alex Guinness is cool and he's got the force and all that, but seriously, Luke, get over it already!

And maybe plant some flowers on the site marking your aunt's smoldering remains when you get a chance, mmmkay?

posted by misha at 4:05 PM on January 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


What the internet needed was another article telling fiction writers that they're doing it "wrong."
posted by broken wheelchair at 4:06 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Heh, Leia's entire fucking planet gets vaporized and she's over that in no time.
posted by Artw at 4:06 PM on January 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


It was an ugly little place.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:07 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have a working theory that Leia really hated Alderon.

I want the magical mentor to not die, but just kind of stick around and use the hero as a meal ticket and way to sleep with milk maids.
posted by The Whelk at 4:08 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


No flush toilets in fantasy!

*scraps Plumber's World trilogy prequel*


Let's not be hasty... just change those "elf wrenches" to "space wrenches" and slap a few legs on those orcs and you've got a perfectly good space opera
posted by Gygesringtone at 4:09 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Like your magical mentor is totally the uncle you forgot about who shows up once you got famous.
posted by The Whelk at 4:09 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Since John Scalzi posted in this thread, I note that he also has great appreciation for Rothfuss' work:
I do take comfort in the fact I’m not the only one who got so completely sucked into Pat’s world. The Name of The Wind has become arguably the greatest success story in fantasy fiction in the last five years. Why? Well, because great story, great characters, and great writing craft really do still matter
Nyah, haters.
posted by Justinian at 4:31 PM on January 10, 2012


(even if jscalzi was wrong about the stew thing in Rothfuss)
posted by Justinian at 4:32 PM on January 10, 2012


Which is to say I look at a list like that and think I could have fun with those rather than never do any of those. Some random list writer is not the boss of me.

Isn't there an old saying that a good writer must have a good understanding of the rules so that he knows when to break them? I think deconstruction, which I have no doubt will be a large part of Redshirts, is different from rote copying.
posted by zabuni at 4:32 PM on January 10, 2012


Bah. The Wise Man's Fear was laughable fanboy wankery. "Oooh, Kvothe!," giggled all the maidens, including, like the totally hot dark elf from whom no man had ever escaped.

That is absolutely true and problematic, I agree (which is why I noted it as a disappointing exception to what the story was supposedly trying to do, BTW).
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:41 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The rangers sat around the campfire, stew long forgotten, massive daisy chain raging on into the night.

So ... Brokeback Mount Doom.
posted by Amanojaku at 4:50 PM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Speaking of jscalzi's cruelty: this was not funny. Not after having had a dozen or so similar real books foisted on me by various girlfriends. No, not funny at all.
posted by Chekhovian at 4:54 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hate you Chekhovian for pointing me to the recognition of all the books I couldn't get past chapter one.
posted by infini at 5:14 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


58. Does anybody in your novel ever stab anybody with a scimitar?

No, but one guy mobbed someone with minotaurs....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:16 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The book as a whole was notable to me because it avoided most of the cliches while feeling very 'practical' about learning magic and the like.

Really? Crikey, I feel like I was reading a different book to The Internet when it comes to Name of the Wind - it was like a Thanksgiving Day of (lovingly lavished) cliches to me. I mean come on, "special" child's family is all killed by enigmatic menace, special street urchin becomes raging success, is not merely better at a dazzling panopoly of things than most people, but leaps and bounds better. Attracted by forbidden knowledge and power of gifts, special teen flys too high too fast and threatens all he values. And so on, I mean, it's like a compendium of cliches.

I grant, I thought the magic system was well thought out, and the book was relatively inoffensive, but mostly I just thought it was so, so typical and I'm astounded at the praise people are heaping on it, and the attempts to differentiate it from any other "blockbuster" fantasy of the last twenty years including Eddings, Brooks, Jordan etc. I felt it was very much cut from the same cloth, and the ridiculous levels of wish-fulfillment and adolescent self-centredness not just of the character but also of the book's focus just so meh. I would have loved it when I was twelve, as I loved Eddings, and the Dragonlance books, but I want a little more now, and there's plenty of more ambitious writers on one side, and plenty of small scale, old school sword-and-sorcery writers without the bloat on the other. It was just deeply average to me, and way way too long.
posted by smoke at 5:18 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


For the person upthread looking for small scale, not save-the-world stories, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories are pretty good for that. Then again, they're pretty good for just about everything. Same with Thieves World anthologies. Short fantasy stories, interesting setting.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:30 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would literally buy any fantasy novel revolving around Slavic mythology and taking place in pre-Christian Eastern Europe/Western Asia on the spot.

I wouldn't necessarily say that The Kalevala is a fantasy novel, but what if...?
posted by ovvl at 5:32 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gosh, once again we are seeing that some people like certain books a lot, and other people dislike those exact same books a lot. Could this be why publishers publish thousands of books a year, perchance?
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:36 PM on January 10, 2012


And I am always tempted to paraphrase Flannery O'Connor in these matters.

Everywhere I go, I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:37 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are occasions when you meet somebody who thinks the Harry Potter stories were particularly original. I love tell them the D&D name for their favorite monsters.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:42 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The correspondents above, good people all, no doubt, that consider Tolkien and his loving, lavish way with language and storytelling "boring," make me very sad.
posted by SPrintF at 5:45 PM on January 10, 2012


Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?
...

It's not so much that the ideas this list lampoons are unoriginal as that they've become boring. A talented enough writer can probably take all the tired, trite fantasy cliches and make a compelling novel out of them.

...

Empire Star is a novella by Samuel Delaney...
posted by ovvl at 5:46 PM on January 10, 2012


Oh, sorry, I was unnecessarily gnomic above. I meant to say that where O'Connor says "universities" I would substitute "Internet".
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:47 PM on January 10, 2012


Is this the first book in a planned trilogy?
How about a quintet or a decalogue?


And, if so, does it actually have sufficient plot to carry across three/five/ten books, or is it just really, really long/badly edited and cut into approximate thirds/fifths/tenths? (Rowling, for instance, had enough plot, she just lacked for editors.)

(I get so excited when I hear about good fantasy that is not part of a planned n-ology.)
posted by jeather at 5:48 PM on January 10, 2012


Tolkien and his loving, lavish way with language and storytelling "boring," make me very sad

Wait, was that the part where the two comic accompaniment guys sit around the fire and smoke weed for like 800 pages? If we could just weed out Tolkien from the public consciousness with its regressive morality, its slavish devotion to pastoralism, and its fucking lavish language...then we could actually discuss meaningful works.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:52 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Alright, I'll try to articulate it a little.

I guess on balance it just felt 'authentic' to me. The world/societies could plausibly exist, and had the normal mixture of moralities and motivations inherent in people anywhere. Kvothe, full of him self that he is, has at best a 50% influence on his life (which he only sometimes acknowledges). Much of the rest comes from bit characters, who to me seemed like real people in the brief slices of their lives that are shown. A bunch of them were recognizable stereotypes, but most weren't idiots by default (notable female exceptions aside).

I read the book over a day and a half at the start of the Christmas break, but I don't have it with me so I'm going to have to be a little general. Let's look at three characters he's shown; the uptown rich woman, the uptown guard, and the shopkeeper.

Finally exploring the city, Kvothe is begging in the rich area of town, far from the slums he's been living in. The uptown areas are kept free from beggars, making him the only game in town. Spotting his mark, he charms a rich woman with the horror of his plight, gaining a relatively large sum of money. The guard is tipped off to Kvothe's presence by a shopkeeper, and almost immediately after getting his payday Kvoth is beaten him six different kinds of bloody.

The motivation of each is clear. The woman is fairly naive and generous, while the guard and shopkeeper are concerned about appearances. The shopkeeper worries that a begging boy will scare away business, and the guard fears retribution for allowing beggars on his beat. Overall, the setup is probably a trope, if not a full blown cliche (something, something, 34th street). It serves quite a few purposes in the context of the story though. The beating forces Kvothe to turn to someone else for help, showing how the child beggars survive illness and other tough times on the streets. During the recovery process Rothfuss is given a place to insert his myth about demons and iron wheels, conveying exposition relatively seamlessly. And the whole issue shows just how the port city is separated into rich and poor, and how it stays stratified, preventing Kvothe from possibly begging from richer people, showing off his latent skills, and rising up out of the gutter more easily.

I'm not saying the book is perfect. The beginning seemed far longer than it needed to be, and Kvothe's fixation on Unobtaineralla was odd to say the least. But The Name of the Wind was well crafted, with the whole 'why doesn't he do THIS' well thought out. A couple of times Rothfuss even lampshaded how he could have gone the whole larger than life Al-Thor hero route, like when the tavern storyteller runs afoul of heresy laws (which also showed the guard's healthy attitudes towards bribery and hinted towards systemic corruption, but I'm starting to repeat).
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 5:55 PM on January 10, 2012


Oops. In response to smoke.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 5:55 PM on January 10, 2012


> TURNS OUT ADORABLE ORPHANS MADE EXCELLENT SPACESHIP FUEL.

Oh man, I'd totally forgotten about that Venture Bros episode.
posted by and for no one at 6:03 PM on January 10, 2012


Has there ever actually been good fantasy literature with well-crafted prose but a constructed, compellingly real world?
posted by SollosQ at 6:05 PM on January 10, 2012


Yes.
posted by EatTheWeak at 6:12 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I keep mentioning them in Fantasy threads but Diane Duane's Support Your Local Wizard series does a good job with magic in the modern world and magic as a whole system/science thing.
posted by The Whelk at 6:13 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


They are also rad and cool.
posted by The Whelk at 6:13 PM on January 10, 2012


up until a few months ago Tolkien and much earlier CS Lewis was the only fantasy I had read, not i'm stuck in goddam Ice and Fire book fucking four. it's been such an investment in time that I feel I have to stick with it. But there are so may jarring examples of Tolkienism - the concept of kingsmoot being one that is particularly offputting. But oh, the journeys. Please, can your characters please stop traversing your fantasy country? I'ts so fucking tiring, and the way they must get to [epithet]-Town before x happens, only to have a zillion and six plot devices thrown in to ensure that destination is never reached.
posted by mattoxic at 6:17 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd like more fantasy that takes place in systems of governance other than feudal King-states. Like a day of intrigue at Tokapai Palace would be enough for most stories.

This is also why Goremghast is the best Fantasy series ever.
posted by The Whelk at 6:20 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wha? How is the kingsmoot Tolkienism? It's basically a Scandinavian or Iceland Thing. That's "Thing" with a capital T not lower case thing.
posted by Justinian at 6:21 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd like more fantasy that takes place in systems of governance other than feudal King-states.

The Chamberpot Chronicals, the prequel to my critically acclaimed Plumber's World Trilogy, is set primarily in the offices of the Loflow Chamber of Commerce.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:30 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is also why Goremghast is the best Fantasy series ever.

oh yes, i had forgotten about that - and yes, I concur. Utterly bleak and wonderfully rich characterisation.

Wha? How is the kingsmoot Tolkienism? It's basically a Scandinavian or Iceland Thing


kingsmoot sounds like entmoot. I didn't realise it was a Viking thing - Can't seem to find the Icelandic or Scandinavian usage of the word though. The internet is polluted with ice and Fire references.
posted by mattoxic at 6:31 PM on January 10, 2012


So you admit that your point is "moot"?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:33 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


In English it would be "folkmoot". But what you're looking for is "Thing". That's awkward because thing is also a common English word with a very different meaning, but capital-T Thing (or þing) is the Germanic equivalent to folkmoot.
posted by Justinian at 6:34 PM on January 10, 2012


oh, good luck googling for "thing".
posted by Justinian at 6:35 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Chekhovian: "If we could just weed out Tolkien from the public consciousness with its regressive morality, its slavish devotion to pastoralism, and its fucking lavish language...then we could actually discuss meaningful works."

All right, this argument again! Certainly, this time we'll get everyone to agree!
posted by Chrysostom at 6:42 PM on January 10, 2012


this time we'll get everyone to agree!

Modifying Feynman's quote a little:
Arguing is a lot like sex, it can have conclusive results, but that's not why we do it!
posted by Chekhovian at 6:47 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Please, can your characters please stop traversing your fantasy country
This, a thousand times...

And you should probably stay away from book 5 if you're having problems with the traveling in book 4....I know you feel like you need to chase after your losses, but the house will always win...walk away from the table.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:55 PM on January 10, 2012


I would probably second that except that there are some fun passages about Cersei in there.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:58 PM on January 10, 2012


I am betting that 20 years from now the rules will be amended to include: Did you just throw an eight-year-old kid out the window?
posted by Ber at 7:26 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd like more fantasy that takes place in systems of governance other than feudal King-states.

I would also really like this. So much fantasy seems to hinge on secret royalty or helping the deserving heir retake his or her throne. It always leaves me a little dissatisfied and wondering why no one tries for democratic revolution. Though one of my favorite fantasy series ever, Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series, revolves around the rulers of Greek-like city-states, and I love it to pieces.
posted by yasaman at 7:46 PM on January 10, 2012


Plumber's World Trilogy

Consisting of:

Mario
Luigi (aka The Plumber's Helper)
and
Christopher
posted by misha at 8:00 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


And you should probably stay away from book 5 if you're having problems with the traveling in book 4....

Oh, but you'd miss so much!

Reek rhymes with meek
posted by misha at 8:06 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, but you'd miss so much!

<weeping>Stop, oh please for the love of sanity stop</weeping>

though cerci is such a bitch, but I'm sure she ends up marrying Mance Rayder or possibly Jaqen H'ghar or...
posted by mattoxic at 8:34 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here is the intro to Jo's re-read although, obviously, if you never got more than 50 pages in you're not going to want to read 50 pages of analysis. Still, I think it provides good evidence that there is more to the books than you are giving credit for even if it isn't your cup of tea. Nothing wrong with that.

Wow, this is fascinating stuff. Although for an "excessively detailed" analysis of a book obsessed with names, she's sure careless about spellings.
posted by I've a Horse Outside at 8:37 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


No mention of Joe Abercrombie?
I really enjoyed his books, and I don't think he actually broke any of this posts rules.
posted by Iax at 8:37 PM on January 10, 2012


I would literally buy any fantasy novel revolving around Slavic mythology and taking place in pre-Christian Eastern Europe/Western Asia on the spot.


C H Cherryh did a series set in very early Christian Russia: Rusalka, Chernevog, and Yvgenie.

Ghormenghast is indeed brilliant, and I recommend just walking away from A Song of Ice and Fire. It will not get any better for you if you're already sick of it. I did, and I pretended that all the characters got eaten and died in horrible suffering and also pretended that weasels chewed up all of G RR Martin's car tires as well. It was a much happier time!
posted by winna at 9:25 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Abercrombie is great. He needs to fall out of love with his setting and the ancillary characters from the First Law trilogy, though.

I would have loved it when I was twelve

Holy shit, if The Name of the Wind would have been out when I was twelve, I don't think I could have handled it, considering how perfectly it hits all the power fantasy indulgences. It would have been hard to come out of that rabbit hole.
posted by Theodore Sign at 9:27 PM on January 10, 2012


Alright I started reading the Name of Wind wiki. I got this far then started vomiting uncontrollably:
"sympathy", a form of magic which allows the user to link two objects together and cause changes in the bound object by manipulating the other (a system drawing equally from modern thermodynamics, quantum entanglement and voodoo dolls)
posted by Chekhovian at 9:40 PM on January 10, 2012


That's taken from that classic detective and his sorceror sidekick whose name I can't recall right now. Instead of forensic science, said magician does stuff like this all very technically
posted by infini at 9:50 PM on January 10, 2012


I usually read the heck out of magitek type books, like Heinlein's Magic, Inc., Poul's sequels, Operation Chaos, Operation Luna, Zelazny's Madwand books, The Wizard Compiled, umm, heck I even enjoyed the Dresden Files magic system (in the TV show, not the books, the books are trash, they feel like shitty fan fiction written about the TV show)...

I think what bothers me is when writers try to slap some thin veneer of actual science stuff onto their BS. Just establish a set of rules, combinatorically use those rules, then break em for the really big finish in some way that hints at some even greater truth.

Harry Potter's magic bored me to death actually, there were just these rules and no one bothered to think about them. I hope the Methods of Rationality guy eventually finishes his stuff and displaces Rowling in the deep future as who people think of when they think of HP.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:02 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


You sure do enjoy telling everyone how much you disdain things, Chekhovian.
posted by I've a Horse Outside at 10:02 PM on January 10, 2012


I know how feudalism worked, only not as well as I know the immediate post feudal period (c1450-1750). So I guess my awesome fantasy novel will have to be more elizabethan than medievalesque.

It's all about this boy on a farm in the Lincolnshire wolds, only after several bad harvests, his dad is forced to sell their copyhold farm, and then they are landless labourers. Also, there is magic.
posted by jb at 10:03 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


You sure do enjoy telling everyone how much you disdain things

I mix it up by occasionally snobbishly declaring how much I like what I like :-)
posted by Chekhovian at 10:04 PM on January 10, 2012


Huh. Sounds like Joe Abercrombie's taken the test:

Epic fantasy. Its all the same, no?

There’s a grumpy wizard, a deadly barbarian, a jumped-up nobleman and some feisty girl, more than likely. They’re all engaged in a mysterious quest to bring that from there, and they’re all made out of cardboard. Probably there’s a dark lord of some kind involved. They talk like extras from a bad soap opera. They fight like extras from a bad cop show. Probably there’s a prophecy, and a farmboy with mysterious parentage, and if not a magic tower, then certainly a strange tall building of some kind. There’ll be battles, there’ll be intrigue, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a magic sword came up somewhere along the way.

I don’t need to read that again.

I want to read a fantasy with all the grit, and cruelty, and humour of real life. Where good and evil are a matter of where you stand, just like in the real world. I want dialogue that actually sounds like people talking, and action that actually feels like people fighting. I want magic and adventure, sure, but I want it to hurt. I want blood, sweat, and tears, and plenty of them. I want to read about characters as selfish, as flawed, as complicated, and as unpredictable as real people. I want a fantasy that can shock and surprise, amuse and horrify, delight and excite me, all at once.

I spent a long time looking, and I couldn’t find a set of books quite like that. So I thought I’d write some.

You like your fantasy with the edges left on?

Try The First Law.


Thanks, I'd never heard of him before. Just to help calibrate things, can someone tell me sans spoilers how Scott Lynch stacks up? Haven't read fantasy in a while and was thinking of giving Lies of Locke Lamora a try. It stuck out from the pack for some reason and I'm curious if it's really the step above the usual it seems to be.
posted by mediareport at 10:14 PM on January 10, 2012


Chekhovian - have you tried any of the Charles Stross series of Laundry books?
posted by Artw at 10:29 PM on January 10, 2012


Has there ever actually been good fantasy literature with well-crafted prose but a constructed, compellingly real world?
posted by SollosQ at 9:05 PM on 1/10


Lois McMaster Bujold - The Curse of Chalion: good writing, really well thought out world - and the absolutely best fantasy religion I've ever come across. The whole novel is about the relationship between humans and the divine. Also, it largely passes this test, being about a 36 year old man who knows exactly who his parents are and who has no special powers, and who isn't questing for anything but would just like to rest and put his life back together.
posted by jb at 10:30 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


re the stew thing: didn't cowboys eat Chilli while on the range or driving cattle cross-country? Chilli is a kind of stew.
posted by jb at 10:32 PM on January 10, 2012


BROKEBACK MOUNTDOOM
posted by XMLicious at 10:37 PM on January 10, 2012


the Laundry books

I enjoyed the heck out of those! (though if you read too many of cstross's books too close together you tend to notice that there is very frequently a nerdy/geeky/introverted male main character that wears a utili-kilt and sexy strong action girl love interest. That does wear thin after a while...but write what you know introverted?

Regarding the "magitek" in there, I thought it was done quite well, sure he handwaves about multiverses and such, but the story and Le Carre or Deighton or Fleming spoofing is what he's clearly focusing his energy on. And now I'm thinking of the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy movie version of the AA. I've been reading the boss's lines in my head using John Hurt's voice for years.

The Name of the Wind wiki entry makes it sound like the magical equivalent of science in TNG: "Energy Matrix off the starboard bow!". Perhaps, that's unfair, but I don't intend to test it myself. Perhaps someone here can elaborate?
posted by Chekhovian at 10:47 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Lois McMaster Bujold - The Curse of Chalion

I just finished her Sharing Knife books, and really enjoyed them. (There's also the Vorkosigan Saga).

I know Orson Scott Card isn't a MeFi favorite, but Hart's Hope is one of my favorite fantasy stories. The world mythology is very rich and detailed for such a short novel. It does follow his typical "one really-really-special-yet-misunderstood young man" motif, though.
posted by and for no one at 11:15 PM on January 10, 2012


I also dislike Card's personal politics, while I adore his Alvin Maker series. Definitely not cookie cutter ye olde Europe fantasy - and I love the very down-to-earth writing style.

Interestingly, the Alvin Maker and the Sharing Knife series are both set around the environment of the Ohio valley and the Mississippi river - and in both, the American setting is refreshingly different. I, too, would like to read more non-Western European set fantasy (and I've made a note of those Cherryh books).
posted by jb at 11:28 PM on January 10, 2012


Just to help calibrate things, can someone tell me sans spoilers how Scott Lynch stacks up?

Ah, again, fun enough books but ripe without a shred of originality, imho. Very adolescent too-cool-for-school protagonists again. Was fun S&Sish romp until he tried to make all serious and emo.
posted by smoke at 11:32 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


So no to both Rothfuss and Lynch, smoke? What constructed world fantasies of the last 30 years do you like?
posted by Justinian at 11:52 PM on January 10, 2012


Chekhovian - have you tried any of the Charles Stross series of Laundry books?

Huh. I was gonna mention his Hidden Family / Trade of Queens books, which have something like magic in them that gets relentlessly torn down. The neatest thing was that it doesn't just tear down / deconstruct fantasy the way that (people say) Ice and Fire does, it also tears down your first reactions to that deconstruction.

Fair warning. It goes to some seriously dark places.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:13 AM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hidden Family / Trade of Queens books

I made it through the first three I believe? To the point where they'd just started mapping the double extra parallel worlds, then I ran out of steam and haven't gone back. It just seemed like the main protagonist was terribly incompetent and in over her head, which I know is the point, but I just couldn't handle any more of her falling on her face and suffering for it. Daddy Warbucks though, man, that Cheney stand in was about the best villain in any book I've read in a while..."Lets go get oil in parallel Texas!!!"
posted by Chekhovian at 12:18 AM on January 11, 2012


I recommend Richard K. Morgan's The Steel Remains and its sequel The Cold Commands; you want fantasy that goes different places, these fit that bill.

Don't get me wrong; the leads are supermen, but they're not perfect, and they make dumb mistakes, being led around by their groins as often as not, without falling into the "dumb barbarian" stereotype. Good stuff!
posted by ChrisR at 12:41 AM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hidden Family is a bit of a fast forwards muddle towards the end, and TBH I kept forgetting who characters and factions were between books, but it really does go out on a bang.
posted by Artw at 1:46 AM on January 11, 2012


Sharing Knife started out great but felt a bit more Harlequin by the third book. Chalion was better and must say I do like that insane twisted dwarf, Miles.
posted by infini at 1:48 AM on January 11, 2012


that insane twisted dwarf
Wait...not Robert Hooke?
posted by Chekhovian at 2:34 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


*glares at Chekhovian*
posted by infini at 3:00 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which is to say I look at a list like that and think I could have fun with those rather than never do any of those. Some random list writer is not the boss of me.

That's actually it tbh. Its what you do with the (its all maxed out) that counts now the what. I once read a old collection by the masters (as in Asimov and whatnot) where they each tried to write a story on the trope that everyone thought was done and over, a different one each. Very nice.
posted by infini at 3:03 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Justinian: Wikipedia on Thing, the capital-T assembly one.
posted by Harald74 at 3:38 AM on January 11, 2012


And for those who wants fantasy set other places than faux medevial Europe, or with different politics, there's always China Miéville and his Bas-Lag series.
posted by Harald74 at 3:41 AM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


By the end of Wise Man's Fear, I added "Does the main character spend a lot of time in a school of magical or esoteric learning where s/he develops friends and enemies, allies and rivals amongst the other students and the staff?" to my mental Over It list.

I liked the book/series and all, but... I am so done with Magic School.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:57 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sharing Knife started out great but felt a bit more Harlequin by the third book.

You thought the third book was Harlequin-esque? That's a bit strange, considering that it is the first two books which were written as cross-over genre (together, they make a perfectly formed romance novel), while the third and fourth broke romance-genre conventions to continue the fantasy aspects of the story.

I would call The sharing knife series as a whole "light fantasy" - akin to Mercedes Lackey or Tanya Huff (when she's not going all horror-oriented) - and the Curse of Chalion-world books as historical/semi-epic (but still very human-sized).

what do people mean when they say "constructed world" fantasy? Is that to distinguish it from fantasy novels set in our own world (eg Gaimen's American Gods)?
posted by jb at 5:41 AM on January 11, 2012


yasaman: "It always leaves me a little dissatisfied and wondering why no one tries for democratic revolution."

Steven Brust's Dragaera novels incorporate this (Teckla, in particular).
posted by Chrysostom at 6:18 AM on January 11, 2012


Daddy Warbucks though, man, that Cheney stand in was about the best villain in any book I've read in a while..."Lets go get oil in parallel Texas!!!"

Not a stand in. Cheney.

SPOILERS

Did you get as far as the US government finding the shifters and start torturing some while vivisecting others to get at whatever's going on in their brains to make it happen? Or for the Clan to set off a tac nuke in DC, leaving either Cheney or Rumsfeld briefly President? Who orders a bunch of B-52s with little gobs of working Clan brains in them to shift over to Clan-world and carpet bomb the east coast with hydrogen bombs?

Fun stuff.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:03 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Scott Lynch's books are fun. Silly, light romps. No one will call them the best in the genre, and generally they're not aiming for that.

Rothfuss is aiming high and, I think, not reaching it. Also I second that the guy is a Gary Stu.
posted by jeather at 7:08 AM on January 11, 2012


Pratchett obviously does see the cliches, and gets narrative mileage out of the reader expecting Carrot will step out and reveal his royalty at any time, which he never does.

However, he now doesn't know what to do with him and his royalty; we haven't been seeing a lot of Carrot lately.

Rule 14. Do not argue with trolls - it means that they win.


You are forgetting not only your family history, but all you ever knew about trolls. First you argue with them until the sun rises, then they get turned to stone and you continue on your merry way.
posted by ersatz at 7:15 AM on January 11, 2012


ersatz: However, he now doesn't know what to do with him and his royalty; we haven't been seeing a lot of Carrot lately.

Or perhaps having explored that area in at least two different novels, he doesn't want to spend his few remaining years developing it.

On the other hand, one of the thing that Pratchett nails both generally and specifically in his treatment of royalty is the importance of the social construction of civic myths. Something that drives me up the wall WRT high fantasy writing about royalty is the idea of a "Rightful King." When you look at how history really worked, the "Rightful King" was usually defined by one or more of the following:

1) The largest standing army.
2) Having decisively won a battle.
3) The willingness of nobles/parliament to work with this jerk as opposed to that jerk.
4) A lack of desire to fight a civil war over it.

Which is a point that Pratchett makes at the end of Wyrd Sisters. Lancre gets the king it chooses to believe in, not a rightful heir. Carrot is a cop and Tomjon is an actor, because they've made a point to believe that about themselves.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:49 AM on January 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ugh. I could do without my helping of small-mindedness and hate today. Thanks for offering.
posted by American Christmas Devil at 8:50 AM on January 11, 2012


You know who's a good world-builder? Dave Duncan. He has fun characters, too. He mostly doesn't take himself too seriously, and the plots of some of his books (I'm thinking the Celebre series) mostly feel like excuses to play around in the neat world that he's built. But some of the plots are quite good, too.

A Man of His Word has just about every hackneyed fantasy trope there is, but it feels fresh, anyway, because the world and the magic are so consistent and vividly imagined.
posted by gurple at 8:53 AM on January 11, 2012


Also Ankh Morpork's practice of economically dominating rivals rather than fight an all out war with them. Sam Vimes' hatred of royalty and nobility in general is a breath of fresh air in the standard Fantasy world.
posted by The Whelk at 8:56 AM on January 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Another good contrast is Bas-Lag, which is a sort of oligarchical pseudodemocracy with all kinds of revolutionary fringes.
posted by Artw at 8:59 AM on January 11, 2012


Ah, again, fun enough books but ripe without a shred of originality, imho. Very adolescent too-cool-for-school protagonists again.

I very much agree. The stuff I've read of his has just reeked of "guy who's basically making a novel out of a D&D campaign he was once in." And if that's a turn off to me, I can only imagine how people who don't have a gamer's tolerance must feel.
posted by Amanojaku at 9:34 AM on January 11, 2012


Of course, this reads a bit like "Here's a novel of my highly militarized modern day CoC campaign" and I loved the hell out of it.
posted by Artw at 9:36 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sam Vimes' hatred of royalty and nobility in general is a breath of fresh air in the standard Fantasy world.

The self-hating Duke of Ankh. ;)
posted by ersatz at 10:06 AM on January 11, 2012


"Lets go get oil in parallel Texas!!!"

If you like that sort of thing you really need to check out Cowboy Angels.
posted by Artw at 10:13 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course, this reads a bit like "Here's a novel of my highly militarized modern day CoC campaign" and I loved the hell out of it.

I like Stolze: Unknown Armies and Feng Shui are two of my all-time favorite games, and Stolze's flavor text was always pretty memorable, so I should probably check that out.
posted by Amanojaku at 10:29 AM on January 11, 2012


I've described it as Black Cod Island meets Blackhawk Down - probably only a handful of people would know what I mean by that, but I'm assuming they'd all want to buy it.
posted by Artw at 10:32 AM on January 11, 2012


entropos: ""Is your name Robert Jordan and you lied like a dog to get this far?""

Can someone tally up all of the memes used by Robert Jordan, and add it up? I have a suspicious feeling that WOT qualifies for about 90% of these. After all, when you've written an epic whose page-count has sprawled well into 5 digits, it's hard not to use every trope in the book.
posted by schmod at 10:36 AM on January 11, 2012



Has there ever actually been good fantasy literature with well-crafted prose but a constructed, compellingly real world?


Everyone should at once read Samuel Delany's Neveryon books, which have the additional advantage of being a commentary on the early days of continental philosophy's rise in the US, and also being in parts and very sadly about the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Seriously, they are sword-and-sorcery and not high fantasy, but they're pretty great.
posted by Frowner at 11:17 AM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can someone tally up all of the memes used by Robert Jordan, and add it up?

With the broadest possible count: 29 of 75. Although that's with a lot of mapping "main character" or "main villain" onto "one of the cast of thousands." It also doesn't have multiple races which eliminates a whole swath of questions.

The details:

1, 2, kind of but not really 3, 4, 5 is a subplot, likewise 6, 7, 11 occurs at least once, there's definitely a 12 and a 13, 15 (argh,) if there is a 16 it's a bit character at best, you could make an argument for 17 but I'd be skeptical, 18 and 19 are so dumb that I can't map them onto anything, 26, I'd argue against 27 but it's not totally clear-cut, obviously 28-30, 31 is sort of a matter of perspective (there's never any "nothing happens" books but there are several "the thing we have been waiting for still hasn't fucking happened in favor of this shit" books,) 32, 33 is the RJ callout, 35 is really a no but there's an interesting philosophical point there, 36, then there's a big gap until 48, 50 is stupid but ok yeah, I can't swear to 52 one way or the other although I think not, another gap until 61 (if nothing else, RJ knew his weapons fairly well,) there are a couple of instances of 70 but not what I'd consider problematic, and 74 is sort of a given although I think the question was aimed at a different sort of ripoff.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:26 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


BTW, this is one of the more awesome MeFi threads in recent memory. Lots of good reading suggestions here!
posted by JHarris at 1:55 PM on January 11, 2012


Am I the only one here who read Ian Graham's Monument? I don't think it gets a 'yes' on any of the questions on that list, but it's a compelling anti-hero story.

@infini: that insane twisted dwarf

Wait, when did we start talking about Harlan Ellison?
posted by hanov3r at 5:04 PM on January 11, 2012


Or for the Clan to set off a tac nuke in DC, leaving either Cheney or Rumsfeld briefly President?

Ah those days when you could fantasize about a properly scaled mass assassination leaving Colin Powell President...no I ejected before anything like that happened. I just couldn't like the protagonist any more.

If you like that sort of thing you really need to check out Cowboy Angels.

H. Beam Piper's paratime series and the offshoot Kalvan books are incredible. Though parts of the paratime books can come off as rather dated. At one point I was cross linking all my favorite books through TV Tropes, sort of like a pandora service for SF novels.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:15 PM on January 11, 2012


jb - could be that it was only by the third book the romance novel aspects struck me? (I'm slow that way)
posted by infini at 8:00 PM on January 11, 2012


And for those who wants fantasy set other places than faux medevial Europe, or with different politics, there's always China Miéville and his Bas-Lag series.

Hell yeah. Perdido Street Station is an amazing mix of fantasy, smart politics, steampunk, seriously horrifying alien beings and sharp crisis magic/science. Anyone who likes 21st-century "constructed world" fantastic fiction should absorb it immediately. The denouement is disappointingly short but everything else - world presentation, detailed plotting, creepy mystery & nail-biting climax - is very nicely done.

Again: Best Horrific Monsters Ever.

That said, I was a teensy bit disappointed in the next Bas-Lag novel, The Scar (not a sequel, just set in the same world a few months after the first book). It sets up this wonderful premise in a totally gorgeous floating pirate island tech-magic scenario and then kind of fumbles the plot a bit, ultimately leaving me feeling like the main characters needed more agency to make the story satisfying in a basic way. Still, he's a wonderful scene-builder and The Scar is well worth reading - particularly so if you're a fan of nautical fiction. I haven't read the 3rd Bas-Lag novel, Iron Council, yet, but it's a testament to Miéville's stunning descriptive power that I'm sure I'll get to it later this year.

Thanks to the folks who helped calibrate Scott Lynch, btw. For what it's worth, I've decided to send myself on a classic sci-fi kick this year, and am currently 2/3 into Ursula K. Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness, a really strange and beautifully written fantasy/scifi/anthropology/politics story, set on a frigid world where everyone but the anthropologist is a....well, 'sequential hermaphrodite' is how Wikipedia puts it. Friends have told me it's too slow, but I like how it's unfolding. It has a late-60s feel, sure, but also a clear, searching intelligence and an obvious, bountiful creativity in the presentation of the planet's cultures. I'm enjoying its strange mix of tech and fantasy tropes a lot.
posted by mediareport at 9:25 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, yeah: I haven't read much paranormal romance, so take this with a grain of salt, I guess, but China Miéville's human-alien sex scenes are the hottest I've ever read.
posted by mediareport at 9:31 PM on January 11, 2012


infini - I've also read a lot romance novels over the last few years (including regency romances, though ironically not the famous Heyer, who Bujold is a big fan of) and I'm very aware of the generic conventions. It's a very tight genre, unlike Sf or fantasy, which are both so broad I'm not even sure you can properly call them genres. And, of course, my favorite Vorkosigan book is A Civil Campaign. but then, it's also my father-in-law's favorite, and I don't think he's read a regency romance in his life.

my SO has just told me that his favorite Sharing knife book was the third, because it has a boat (he is a naval historian). He was disappointed when they left the boat behind. I like them as a whole, though I recognize that they weren't written as carefully as her Chalion books - I read that she wrote the Sharing knife books as a fun break for herself, and I like them that way. But being as brilliant as she is, Bujold couldn't help but do some very interesting world creation (I love the ground "magic" system - that's how I think magic would really work) and strong character development (mostly Fawn and Dag - some of the others are thinner).
posted by jb at 10:09 PM on January 11, 2012


I want to marry the insane, twisted dwarf. But I like Ekaterina too much to poach. (Also, I'm totally not his type. And I would probably try to kill him after a bit. But it would be a loving murder).
posted by jb at 10:13 PM on January 11, 2012


I think my timing was just off, coming out of a destroyed romance with a man in his fifties and it just coloured my experience of sharing knife (though I confess to buying the second as hardcover cos I couldn't wait)

I see myself closer to whatsername who had her face redone ;p when it comes to the Admiral
posted by infini at 10:43 PM on January 11, 2012


So many readers who don't finish books... I finish reading everything (yes, even the shampoo bottle.) Only one book ever made me want to throw it in disgust and I refuse to attempt reading it again - S. Meyer's Twilight. Voracious reader who loves all the stuff the FPP article hates but I won't insult my brain again with that "paranormal teen romance" drivel.
posted by _paegan_ at 8:42 AM on January 12, 2012


I finish most things... even the last Harry Potter book which about 1/2 way trough I was seeing the Fonz on his dirt-bike.

That being said I am finding it harder and harder to find new good genera finding in quantity.. The Stranger is interesting even though it seems to have some consistency issues. I'm guessing I am going to have to start looking more and more outside the English language to find new/interesting stuff.
posted by edgeways at 9:33 AM on January 12, 2012


ack that 'finding' should be 'fiction'.

Stupid Thursdays
posted by edgeways at 9:34 AM on January 12, 2012


I finish most things... even the last Harry Potter book which about 1/2 way trough I was seeing the Fonz on his dirt-bike.

I just skimmed all the Harry Potter books after the second one. I kind of wanted to know what happened, but the writing doesn't exactly reward close reading. I think i got through the last two or three books in an hour or so each..
posted by empath at 9:46 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mrs. IRFH will finish anything she starts reading, no matter how much it bores her. I find it prudent not to call this an unhealthy compulsion on the grounds that this could be the same personality tick that has kept her with me all these years.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:53 AM on January 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I went looking for a book for a long flight tomorrow and considered looking at what you guys were going on about but then recalled the parody (I hope that was satire) viz.,



"Kvothe, the vessel is about to burst! You have to do something!"

Kvothe couldn't spare any effort for speech, but he had been using his spare time in between classes, music, and teaching eighteen different languages to orphans at the same time, to master the art of knitting. He quickly knitted the word "silence" into a blanket and showed it to Denna, who quieted, chastened.

"There!" he gasped, "It's done." The massive water tank had held. The pipes were in place and connected, held there by the force of Kvothe's thought. He placed his hand upon the lacquered handle.

"Now, who would like to try the first flush?"


And couldn't bring myself to plonk down good money for a new book. I'll see if a library has it somewhere
posted by infini at 10:10 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Excellent, infini! I've done something useful in this life!
posted by gurple at 11:29 AM on January 12, 2012


(to be clear, that was satire. I was combining my low opinion of the characterization and writing style of _In the Name of the Wind_ with someone's suggestion that there should be a book about the magical creation of a safe water/sewer system)
posted by gurple at 11:36 AM on January 12, 2012


According to the book, Kvothe does it all in first person btw
posted by infini at 12:14 PM on January 12, 2012


Yes, but there are places even I'm not willing to go for a laugh.
posted by gurple at 12:58 PM on January 12, 2012


It was the most finally crafted arrangement of excrement I had ever managed; even better, dare I say it, than the time I was awarded the certificate of high merit for fecal interpretation of the Dark Lord's toady stepson, Granythwaite the Gray, who once so sullied the Porcelain Throne as to stain the very name to this day.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:24 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of the things I like about the DiscWorld books is that there is actually a fair bit dedicated towards the workings of things. Smells, shit, sewers that actually are more than damp tunnels for the hero to break into/out of the castle/prison from. Poo sticks went upmarket when they started using real sticks.
posted by edgeways at 9:35 AM on January 13, 2012


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