Books, Books, Books

Life has been stressful for me, to say the least, so I have been in escapism mode for a while now. I deal with what I have to deal with, and then turn off reality.

I finished all the Discworld novels, including the Tiffany Aching ones which turned out to be wonderful. The final novel was a Tiffany Aching novel, The Shepard’s Crown, and it was a beautiful, if sad, end to our adventures in Discworld. It was not entirely written by Practchett. He had written the main scenes. It was filled in/completed by someone else and you could tell at which points because the characters just did not quite “sound” right. But it was still the perfect “Good Bye.”

But Pratchett’s daughter has promised this is the last of the Discworld novels. She said she would protect her father’s legacy, “Even from myself.”

The only ones I did not read with the “Industrial Revolution” novels because the characters simply did not appeal.

But I finished those a while back. Thanks to BookBub and Project Gutenberg, I have not been starved for literary entertainment.

After War and Peace, I read some lightweight fun.

Nefertiti’s Heart by A.W. Exley: Ostensibly this is a Steampunk Fantasy/SciFi novel, but the truth is, it’s a romance novel with a background of Steampunk (which seems to also be used as an excuse for verbal anachronisms) and mystery until the last couple chapters when yon dashing hero must save his lady-love from a serial killer with a magical artifact. The characters are o.k., not overwhelming. They’re romance novel clichés: The dashing TDH nobleman with dangerous reputation, the emotionally wounded tom-boy heroine he must tame with…

If you are looking for the schmexy, there’s plenty there. Not explicit, but you know, it’s there. I think the story a would have been better served with some more balance between the romance and murder mystery, but it’s a nice Saturday afternoon read.

Etruscans: Beloved of the Gods by Morgan Llewellyn and Michael Scott: Now don’t get me wrong, the story is great. Reading at face value I thoroughly enjoyed it. Good characters, good “coming of age” story, great incorporation of the mythical elements. A very enjoyable book, a fun Saturday read. My only nit picks are a historian’s pedantism.

I read Morgan Llewelyn’s Red Branch (her version of the legend of Cu’ Chulainn)  yonks ago. Back when I was a teenager, I think. It was very entertaining and made me very curious about the legend itself, which set me off on researching ancient Irish legends. She is very good at humanizing these mythic heroes, while incorporating the elements of native spirituality/religion and magic. Now, usually she’s about the Celts, but for this one she (and Michael Scott) took on the Etruscans.

Part of the problem with writing about the Etruscans is that we’re still learning about them. We have not even fully translated their language yet (which is one of those out of place oddball languages that has no relationship to the languages around it, it’s not Indo-European). So most of what we know we’re interpreting from art, grave goods and what is left from the layouts of their cities. (Which means it’s pretty tentative.) We know little of their myths and legends. I guess that’s was why Llewellyn and Brooks chose to pull their “Etruscan hero”  from the annals of Ancient (I mean, really ancient, way before the Caesars) Rome: Horatius Colces. (“Hora Trim” being his “Estruscan name”). So it is no wonder that the story spends minimal time in “Eutria” and sends the hero off into the wild and eventually to Rome.

Then why not set the thing in Rome to begin with?

And there was the stated theme that “Man gives Gods form” at the beginning that is not really explored in the story, which is a straight up fantasy adventure.

But it’s a very good fantasy adventure.

Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel: by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris. Now this is real Steampunk. The world is not merely a backdrop to the story, but fully formed and integral to the story (even if it does pull from all the conventions of the genre). The characters are delightful, an “Odd Couple” of a brash, explosives-loving Kiwi-“colonial” and a reserved British Archivist (not “Librarian”). The Ministry investigates and collects magical artifacts from around the world (there is even a room full of unsolved cases that the characters edge around calling the “X-Files”), while a madman with an ancient order plots to take over the British Empire and “make it great again.” (Hrm, where have we heard that recently?)

Eliza Braun is pulled into this mystery when her old partner suddenly turns up completely insane after following a lead on his own. Her misbehavior lands her in the Archives with the aptly named Wellington Books who gets dragged, sometimes very humorously, sometimes with surprising adeptness, into her personal investigation/vendetta. Refreshingly, while magic is present in the world, it is not the focus of the villain’s plot.

In the meantime there is a mystery surrounding the director of the Ministry’s activities and a political plot to undermine the Ministry in favor of a new agency, the “British Intelligence Service” who won’t have anything to do with this silly magic business, thank you.

It’s rip roaring fun. Highly recommend it for those who love Steampunk or just a good romp.

The Roman Mask by Thomas Brooke: It’s hard to write a novel (or make a movie) where the audience knows the end is not going to be good and keep them engaged. This book is about the Battle/Massacre of the Tuetobourg Forest, the greatest Roman military disaster that many historians agree helped shape modern Europe. Told from the Roman point of view it is, of course, a very bloody tragedy.

Brooke inserts a fictitious Roman “war hero,” Cassius (no not *that* Cassius, or that one, or that one)  who has lost his taste for the military and nerve for battle after surviving a particularly horrific almost-last-stand. In short, the guy has PTSD and spends as much time as possible drunk and distracted. Yanked out of his life of dissipation in Rome, Livia (wife of Princeps Augustus, now *there* was a couple fiction could not have invented) sends Cassius off to “advise”/keep an eye on Quintus Varus, the Governor of the new Roman province of Germany.

Varus was, as was well known, an utter failure. He had come from governing Syria, which was already a kingdom used to a king, agriculture and production for markets, taxation, etc. when it was conquered by the Romans. Indeed, most of Rome’s stable conquests were of, as one historian put it, “ready-made principalities.” Not so Germany, a land of Iron Age tribes not at all used to farming or taxes or exploiting the land beyond anything more than necessary for their warrior lifestyle. It certainly was not a proper occupation for a Germanic Warrior to work the fields. With low product yield, Varus taxed the hell out of them instead in order to build Roman cities as a showcase of the advantages of Roman civilization, which did nothing to impress any German on whose backs it was being built by force.

This of course led to the great alliance of German tribes under a Arminius/Hermann, the German leader who had been raised as a princely hostage of Rome and even served in the Roman Army. This experience served him well, making him appear as an ally to the Romans while he organized and managed to turn a horde of disorganized warriors into a fighting force capable of taking on three Roman Legions and destroying them utterly.

Cassius is an enjoyable character. His PTSD and guilt do not overwhelm the character to the point of making him a drag. He’s smart, caring, has a sense of humor and is annoyingly experienced and sensible to his young protégé who is filled with dreams of honor and glory. Marcus the protégé manages to be over exuberant without being annoying and you spend the novel on the edge of your seat wondering how the hell are they going to get out of this.

The action of the battle is very well done, incorporating some of the recent archeological finds.

The author takes the liberty of giving the Romans more resistance than they probably were able to put up in real life (also diverges from Tacitus‘s telling that *all* the Roman leaders offed themselves at once), but it builds the tension to a fever pitch of the Romans’ final doomed assault to help a megre few escape. He also redeems the image of Numonius Vala who is considered by historians to have rode out with the cavalry as a cowardly escape. In the book, it’s a plan.

I won’t spoil it for you except to say the ending is not all tragedy. It was a really good, satisfying, read. Well done indeed. The Battle of Tuetobourg Forest is one of those historical events that defies fiction. With events like this, no writer, no Hollywood producer could have come up with what happened in real life, but Brooke handles it deftly.

Advertisements

Much Geekness: Star Wars; Alas poor Ahsoka, I knew you well.

For those of you who enjoyed Star Wars IV-VI (the original trilogy: A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi)  and now VII (The Force Awakens, which rocked, so totally), there is a lot more to the SW universe.

For decades there have been the Star Wars novels covering just about every character seen and every era mentioned in the Star Wars Universe. I confess I have not read them. The Force Awakens definitively showed the novels to be in their own continuity. However, they have a great fan-following, despite being their own cannon.

Now for the most part I am a Star Trek fan (and Babylon 5), but I see no point of dissing one franchise for the other. They are both thoroughly enjoyable with their ups (ST VI: The Undiscovered Country and Empire Strikes Back) and their downs (Star Trek V and Revenge of the Sith). In fact, to compare them is rather like apples and oranges because while both take place in Science Fiction universes, in their stories, Star Trek is more Science Fiction, while Star Wars is more Fantasy.

Think about it, the lowly hero who is “the chosen one” who goes on a journey to find himself and his power, magical power (The Force, mitichlorians be dammed), a weapon of power handed down from father to son (and possibly to granddaughter). Even Joseph Campbell, the scholar who wrote Hero of a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth (an account of his interview with Bill Moyer) pegged Star Wars for what it was: A Hero’s Journey straight out of our classic legends. (And indeed, it came out that Lucas had read Hero with a Thousand Faces, which had in influence on his scripts.) It’s Epic Fantasy set in a SciFi universe. And there is nothing wrong with that.

In fact, the fact that Star Wars is Epic Fantasy in the mode of a classic legend was probably the secret of its wildly unexpected success. When the first film came out, 1977, it splashed down into a pop culture landscape that had a lot of moral ambiguity and disillusionment. In 1977 the movies were either distracting fluff like Smoky and the Bandit or depressing like A Bridge Too Far. (Annie Hall being the obvious artistic stand out of that year.) And SciFi had almost faded into obscurity. The only competition Lucas faced was from his friend Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind which was a straight up SciFi film.

Now we think of The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad & Odyssey, Beowulf and the Arthurian Legends as these ancient epics that belong in the realm of scholarly study. But we forget these were the pop culture of their time. These were the stories the working people listened to in taverns and at hearths and in temples and courts, etc. These were cultural ties that connected people.

Star Wars did that for the modern generation because it filled the need of the epic hero’s journey that modern society lacked. The Lord of the Rings film series did that again, reaching across the genre boundaries to touch billions of people with Tolkien’s take on that archetypal tale that is practically the basis of the human conception of ourselves and human universe/worldview.

Anyway, rambling aside.

The Star Wars prequels sucked. We can all agree on that. It really came down to one huge failing (Jar Jar Binks and wooden acting aside, which I blame in direction because how else do you make Natalie Portman wooden?): Anakin was unlikable. He was arrogant, whiny, snotty, and a mass murder (When he said “I killed them all!” why Padme did not back out of that room slowly and jump on the nearest land speeder out of there, I have no idea.)  When you have a character that is going to have a major fall as the audience knew Anakin must, you have to get the audience invested in that character, get them to care about him and grieve when he falls. Lucas did not do that. He had two films to get the audience to like him and Anakin remained an arrogant bratty adolescent that if the audience gave a damn about at all, it was because they wanted to push him into that lava pit themselves.

(Seriously, if I were Obi Wan I heard Anakin going off on one of his “He’s holding me back!” rants, I would have said. “Tell you what kid. I will take the advice of the Jedi Counsel to stop training you, and dump your sorry ass back on Tattooine in slavery were we found you. Then you can think about how you are being “held back.”)

What corrected that grave error in writing and casting in the films was not seen by the majority of the people who saw the films: The Clone Wars TV series. Taking place between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, in the six years it was on it showed Anakin as a likeable character! His arrogance is tamed to cockiness and a usually charming, and successful, disregard for the rules. His anger to tamed into a passionate protectiveness for the people in his life (and some jealously over any male that gets near Padme despite possessiveness being a major Jedi no-no). And he has a sense of humor. A real one! The series does hint and sometimes show the darker aspects of his character, that passion becoming rage, the jealously becoming paranoia, the cockiness to the arrogance that would become a single minded belief that what is “right” in his eyes (manipulated by Palpatine, who can be seen gently sinking his hooks into Anakin throughout the series) is worth any cost. And very occasionally they show that, when pushed, he can be a cold blooded killer. From time to time, they do hint heavily at the transformation coming. But for the most part, he is shown as a whole, real person and you actually get to know, like and care about the guy.

(Big Bonus: No whining.)

So much so that going back and watching Revenge of the Sith after watching the show, the film has a much greater emotional impact.

Part of that journey into likability is that Anakin took on a Padwan of his own: Ahoska Tano.

Ahsoka is just a kid when she signed on as his Padawan. As such she comes to idolize her master under what appears outward to be an almost fraternal relationship rather than that of master-and-student. In sharing rebelliousness and cocky natures, he frequently makes big-brother jabs at her while she frequently takes little-sisterly jabs at him. But the fact is she would follow him into hell. Their relationship is a large part of what humanizes Anakin, but Ahsoka quickly became an extremely popular character in her own right.

And let’s face, the SW Universe was short a few kick-ass women.

She also received a warning about Anakin’s nature and the effect staying with him could have on her life. At that moment, she brushed it aside. But Ahsoka’s time with the Jedi was cut short when she was suspected of being part of a terrorist attack. Anakin defended her constantly while she went on the run to find the real terrorist, another Jedi Padawan who had become disillusioned with the Order and realized that they were the cause of the war, that they was being misled (by Palpatine, though she did not know it) to the Dark Side.

But despite vindication, when the Jedi Counsel, a group Ahsoka had put her trust in since she was a toddler, doubted her, she began to have doubts in herself, of where her life was going. She left the Order and Anakin in what is one of the most heartbreaking series/season finales.

(Big props to the music here)

As someone pointed out, the “I know” says a lot about how far their relationship had come. That she knew how torn he was, and why, and had kept his secret. Far from master and student, they had become two people who knew and trusted each other implicitly.

(And without a hint of romantic tension. Because y’know, that can happen.)

Clone Wars continued for one more season after her departure, but it was never the same. Ahsoka was a vital spark in that show and it simply couldn’t float without her. Her abrupt departure and lack of information about her in the subsequent series/season and Revenge of the Sith (she was not shown among the Jedi killed under Order 66) and other media (I think she appeared in a video game) resulted in fans yelling “WHAT HAPPENED TO AHSOKA TANO!?!” every time a new Star Wars anything was announced.

The current TV series, Star Wars Rebels (which takes place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope), at last brought Ahsoka back as one of a leaders of rebels against the growing Empire. Not a Jedi, but perhaps with something the Jedi had lost.

And what was great is they got the same voice actors for Ahsoka and the rare instances where it was needed, Anakin.

And we learn is that her leaving may have had a more devastating effect on Anakin than we realized.

Ahsoka showed up in the series first, but when Darth Vader (then an unknown figure working for the Emperor) shows up at the end of series/season one, the fans were waiting for one thing: The show down.

And we got it at the end of series/season two. The thing is, knowing that we do not see Ahsoka in A New Hope or any of the subsequent films, I knew that she was not walking away from this. She is the final string to Anakin’s humanity that Vader has to cut (much like Kylo Ren thought killing his father would). But the battle itself, both physical and emotional, was what everyone had waiting for, for four years.

And it did not disappoint.

(And yes, that is James Earl Jones as the Vader, but it’s Matt Latner’s Anakin’s coming through  that kills you. If you spent hours binge watching Clone Wars, that is.)

And did anyone else catch that during the fight there were seconds of Vader’s lightsaber going green?

The writer/director did leave a slight ambiguity for those fans who need to believe she goes on. But if this is the end for Ahsoka Tano, and I think it was as it should be both artistically and in terms of continuity, it was perfectly done with light touches used to the greatest effect. (For example, it was Anakin’s voice very end saying, “Then you will die.” Not Vader’s. *heartbreak*)  A beautiful, if tragic, end not only to Ahsoka’s arc of becoming something more than a Jedi, but also Anakin’s arc into Vader.

My Yearly Reading Goal: Discworld

Because I am in full retreat from reality and given the passing of Sir Terry, I felt it time to really delve into Discworld.

Discworld

I had only read Small Gods (which is awesome) and The Unseen Academicals (which was on sale, but because I had not read any of the other books, not was into football/soccer, I missed all the in-jokes), so this is what I have been doing this year. This is pretty much all I have been doing this year, aside from some Connie Willis (Oxford Time Travel series) , Vera Nazarian (Cobweb Bride series) and Michelle Moran (Nefertiti, Heretic Queen).

If you try to read the Discworld novels in the order they were published, you are going to get lost. Fortunately, some fans have made handy maps to track the storylines of the major characters:

Discworld reading guide

A link to the unadulterated map is here.

This is not entirely up to date as it is missing Pratchett’s last four books:

Witches/YA Novels: I Shall Wear Midnight and The Shepard’s Crown

Watch Novels: Snuff

Industrial Revolution Novels: Raising Steam

I’m sure there are more up to date “maps” out there, but they don’t look this cool.

So far, I have read everything with a blue star next to it, twice (waiting in between purchases). 😀 My focus is to get through the novels and short stories. I’ll catch up with his YA books (which his last publication, The Shepard’s Crown, is one of) later. And I have to delve into the Industrial Revolution series.

What these separate sets of characters allowed Pratchett to do is to write different types of stories in the one setting. The Rincewind novels are all chase/adventure. The Watch/Sim Vimes novels are mysteries. The Witches novels are battles that have a lot of literary allegory. While the Death series and some of Pratchett’s One-Offs (novels featuring characters that do not appear anywhere else in the series) look closely at humankind; its world-view, attitudes, institutions, beliefs.

I will say Pratchett is the one SciF-Fantasy novelist I have read who has “discussed” faith and religion in the most unbiased way. He has much to criticize in religious institutions (he has much to criticize about social institutions in general) but he recognizes the power and benefits of faith and belief. Small Gods, Carpe Jugulum.

When you read Pratchett’s novels, you can see he borrowed a lot of individual pieces from here and there (Shakespeare in particular in the Witches stories.) But he puts them together in his own wonky way and still brings fresh insight into human nature.

But where Pratchett really shines are his characters: Rich, flawed, entertaining, striving, human and yes, funny. The two best things about Pratchett’s characters are that first, he recognizes that there is a wide variety of human nature. The characters are not merely different people, they come from a very wide range of different moral and emotional cores: from the “Naturally Good” (Magrat, Captain Carrott) to the “Naturally Evil, but Decided to be Good” (Granny Weatherwax) to the “No Scruples, but No Harm” (Nanny Ogg, Corporal Nobbs) to the “Good with a Dark Side” (Sam Vimes) to the “Amorals of Order” (Venitari, Death) and so on.

And these cores are only the basis of rich characterizations, all of which grow throughout their series of books. They are all fascinating, with little cul-de-sacs of personality traits that somehow all fit together to make a real person, even if they are a witch or a werewolf or the universally-known, but undeclared, King of Ankh-Morpork.

I’ll also add that he does a fantastic job writing women as women, with their own power. The Witches are of course the obvious example of that, but great female characters are scattered throughout Discworld; each unique, each with their own strength from the warrior woman archetype in Corporal Angua to Lady Sybyl’s personal charisma. Even those who may appear powerless at the outset (Magrat, Lady Sybil) find their strengths and grow from the experience.

My favorite series are the Death/Susan Death series.

Susan

Not only because Susan is my absolute favorite character (sensible woman of dry wit trying to be sensible in an unsensible world), but because these stories delve the deepest into human psyche and conceptualization. The Hogfather is required reading.

For like the entire planet.

Second favorite are the Watch/Sam Vimes stories.

Vimes

Sam comes in #2 because is an honest flat foot in a corrupt world, who knows he is a flat foot in a corrupt world, yet he has to set things right. He can’t leave mysteries alone. He knows he is not the smartest (and Pratchett had a comment or two about the Sherlock-type of investigator), but he is the most determined and pretty damned clever. And as anti-authoritarian authority figure, he is going to go his own way and speak his mind, even if that means barging in to a Guild-leaders meeting and putting an axe through the table. Because of his successes, despite all his disgusted protests, he keeps getting promoted until he becomes a Duke. What I also love is that people around Sam expect much of him because he has “hidden qualities,” but what Sam knows is that some of his “hidden qualities” are not so pretty. He can be incredibly, animalistically, violent. But because he has wrestled with that side of himself (and drink) for so long, it makes him a stronger person (which comes into play in Thud). Yet despite the tough-guy facade, he is a loving (and respectful) husband and father.

Plus his feud with the Assassin’s Guild was pretty funny.

Most of The Watch mysteries are pretty good. I’m torn between Feet of Clay and The Fifth Elephant as my favorites. I’m going to with The Fifth Elephant because it’s a good mystery where we get to see Sam’s darker side really come out, and Sam’s wife Lady Sybyl shows her strength as well.

A lot of people also point to Night Watch as required reading for its take on how political power struggles manipulate the common people, who pay the highest price.

Another highly recommended novel is Small Gods, which is a One Off for Pratchett’s deepest look into religion, society’s effects on it and its effects on society.

I’m not a huge Rincewind fan, but Sourcery is a great book. I mean, one of the great, tear-the-world-assunder wars of magic ended by half a brick in a sock. Seriously, how can you beat it?

For the Witches series, it’s a tough call between Lords and Ladies (a Pratchett-esque take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Magrat finally comes into her own) and Carpe Jugulum. I’m going to give it to Carpe Jugulum, which is probably his most ambitious novel. He touches on different concepts of evil. He explores the Mother-Maiden-Crone aspect of the witches when Granny Weatherwax bows out, Magrat becomes a mother and a new, younger witch, Agatha Nitt, enters the fold. (This leaves Nanny Ogg not happy about assuming the role of “the other one.”). He examines the difference between religion and faith to the individual (where Small Gods had been more of religion and faith to society). And we get more insight into one of Discworld’s more fascinating characters: Granny Weatherwax.

Also, Pictsies.

So even if you are not a big fantasy reader, you have to give the Discworld books a whirl. They’re fun books that do not insult your intelligence; they have good stories with great characters that make you laugh, think and touch you with moments of insight and poignancy.

Fantasy Genre and Psuedo Intellectual B.S.

My mother used to say, “Philosophy is the occupation of self-involved men with nothing better to do.” Now, I’m not quite that negative on philosophers as they began investigation into science, the world, religion, society, human nature, etc.. However, given some philosophers, I can kind of see her point.

I certainly apply that characterization to professional literary reviewers.

There are a lot of people, both men and women, who enjoy mental masturbation just for the sake of proving how intellectually superior they are while sucking the joy out of stories for other readers. The problem for them is the people smart enough to see through their mental gymnastics to what they are actually saying, which is often B.S..

For example, this little piece of “You have GOT to be kidding me” wandering around the internet I just discovered today.

I can’t cut and paste the salient points because the entire thing is a JPEG. But the principal idea in this “interpretation” is The Harry Potter series is not a Fantasy Genre story, but the story of a traumatized and mentally ill person (Harry) retreating from reality in a mental institution. Every adventure and achievement is made negative, everything is bad/false/a delusion, his heroism is a lie he tells himself as his psychosis becomes more deeply entrenched.

Now, speaking from a “post-structuralist standpoint” (which one can apply to *art*, not people), sure. That is one way to look at it. One way which, like too much post-modern thought, deconstructs the hero into a horribly damaged villain of the entire piece. One way which sucks anything worthwhile or enjoyable out of it.

First of all, all this “great intellectual” did was take the themes and situation of Sucker Punch and apply them to Harry Potter. So not exactly clever, original or even deeply intellectually-informed thinking here. They just want you to think it is/they are.

Secondly, this is someone who does not understand or like the Fantasy Genre. No, not everything is symbolic of the real world. Sometimes a wand is just a wand.

Third, this type of “interpretation” is, as I said above, nothing more than mental wankery in the interpreter proving their “intellectual superiority” over the fans of the series, or at least that PhD they got in English Literature was worth whatever they paid for it. I remember in High School (in California) in my Honors English class, we were going over The Scarlet Letter. The teacher (with her shiny new Doctorate) was insisting there were three “symbols” on every damn page. Well, that is only a slight exaggeration, but it got to the point where she said, “The moss is a symbol of his moral decay.”

Blue Curtains

That was it for me. I had grown up in Maine. “It’s moss! It grows on trees, it grows on the ground. It’s just there, part of the scenery.” I switched to the regular English course at the mid-year. (I transferred back the following year with a new Teacher.) If that was what “advanced study of English literature” was, I bloody well wasn’t going to sit through it.

Harry Potter is of the Fantasy Genre. It is a very classic Campbell-ianHero’s Journey” taking place in a fantasy world with magic and monsters and good and evil embodying universal themes of mankind, just as Star Wars, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are (for Bilbo and Frodo respectively), The Tasks of Heracles or The Epic of Gilgamesh are. (As Sir Terry Pratchett pointed out, the Fantasy Genre is the oldest literary genre.)

(The links in the previous paragraph lead to brief examinations of each example of how they fulfill the requirement of the universal “Hero’s Journey” which in fact hold much deeper themes of humanity than “He’s bonkers.” Like friendship and sacrifice and the role of free will in good and evil. Sometimes the hoi polloi are more intelligent and insightful than the literati are.)

But having been a fan of SciFi and Fantasy long before LOTR film series made it acceptable to the general public, it is has very amusing watching the elite of literature, who for decades dismissed SciFi and Fantasy as “kids stuff” (I particularly remember one conversation in which I was told that Fahrenheit 451 was not Science Fiction, the person’s argument basically boiled down to “It’s too good to be Science Fiction”), trying to review and analyze genres they have absolutely no knowledge of.  I have read some really ridiculous crap including a very ignorant treatise of the “History of Fantasy” that the reviewer stated came through books like Treasure Island and that George R.R. Martin was “revolutionary” for publishing the first “dark,” “gritty” Fantasy story.

No.

And No.

Needless to say, a bunch of long-time genre fans jumped in the comments thread and tore him to shreds. It was funnier than watching the NYT Book Reviewers bending over backwards trying to classify American Gods as *anything* but a Fantasy novel when the author himself proudly claims the title of “Fantasy Author.” (None of this “Magical Realism” or “Speculative Fiction” B.S. used by authors raised to disdain the genre they are writing in.)

What needs to happen is publications like the New York Times Book Review needs to hire (or at least get some freelancers)  some of the people who have been reviewing books for journals like Strange Horizons, Tor, Analog, and Fantasy Magazine, people who know and understand the genre they are reviewing, to come and work for them. Because right now, their literati book reviewers are just making fools of themselves.

And P.S. As I have said many times, interpretations of art are often more revealing of the nature of interpreter than they are of the art itself.

DEATH Walks with Sir Terry, and I Wonder What They Are Talking About

As you all have heard, we have just lost one of the great literary voices of our time, perhaps of all time.

Sir Terry Pratchett has left us

This…is a rough one. I’m glad for the joy and thought provoking laughter he brought us. The laser-like satire disguised as silliness. I’m glad he was able to keep writing as long as he did with that axe hanging over his brilliant mind. I’m glad he went out before the axe fell. Requiescat in pace, Sir Terry. I hope you get that horse and sword to go with your knighthood.

Leonard Nimoy was sad, but this is tear-inducing.

For those who want some more insight into Sir Terry, here is Neil Gaiman’s wonderful look at the “Furious Jolly Old Elf.”

And if you have not read Small Gods and Good Omens and Hogfather laughed your head off between nods of “Good point” or silences of profound poignancy, you might want to peak out from under that rock.

Something more from the library

Ook.

Death and What Comes Next, a short story by Sir Terry Pratchett (2002)

Nick Mogavero posted this on Pratchett’s Facebok page, an Ode:

“I would like my pudding now nurse. And then I think I’d like to… write… something… I don’t remember what.”

Standing in the corner, he waits. The sand slowly flows, but it nears it’s end. The old man still glows, as thousands of threads spread away from him.

SQUEAK.

I AGREE. IT IS A SHAME TO SEE HIM THIS WAY.

SQUEAK.

NO. I DO NOT KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN…. BUT I CANNOT WAIT TO ASK HIM HOW IT ALL ENDS.

The old man looks up, through them at first… and then he sees them. For once, the smile on the hooded figure’s skull is genuine.

“I… I remember you. The anth… ant…”

ANTHROPOMORPHIC PERSONIFICATION.

“Yes, that. We knew each other?”

ONCE. AND WILL AGAIN, SIR.

He so rarely said it, and these feelings… remembering his young aprentice, and beloved daughter. The beautiful child they have.

“There… is a girl, yes?”

SHE IS SPEAKING TO THE AUDITORS, SIR. THEY ARE UNWILLING TO LISTEN.

“Well then. You know what they say, two things you cannot avoid. Taxes and…” He looks into the firey blue eyes, and becomes aware.

SQUEAK.

“Quite right. Is it time already? I have so much left to do.”

YOU HAVE GIVEN ALL YOU CAN SIR.

“No, not cancer. Alzheimers.”

I AM AWARE.

“So, where is the boy? I remember a boy.”

CARRIAGE ACCIDENT.

“Ahh. Never much trusted cars. Or horses.”

THEY GET YOU WHERE YOU WANT TO GO.

“Must I?”

SOON. BUT WE MAY SIT HERE AWHILE.

SQUEAK

DO YOU HAVE ANY BISCUITS?

“No. Shame really.”

YES.

“Is it truely turtles?”

ALL THE WAY DOWN. I HAVE SEEN THEM.

“Ahh. I would love to see it. Perhaps a small trip before?”

IT WOULD BE MY PLEASURE.

“The light is slower there… and there’s a monkey….”

ORANGUTAN. SAME PRINCIPLE.

“Yes… will they remember me?”

SQUEAK.

“What was that? I could not hear you.”

HE SAYS WE WILL, SIR.

“I never much liked the trouble people had with you. You seem like a nice fellow.”

I HAVE MY DAYS.

“Don’t we all?”

SOME LESS THAN OTHERS.

“Is it quick?”

YES. AND I BROUGHT THE SWORD. CEREMONY DICTATES IT.

“Ahh. How about a cup of tea?”

I WOULD ENJOY IT. DO YOU PLAY CHESS?

“No. how about checkers?”

And so they sat, two old friends regaling each other, though the old man could not remember all of the details, the cloaked man and his rat filled him in, when it was needed.

Femme Geeks and Geek Society: WTF Dudes?

Nothing to Prove

Having grown up a geek, daughter of geeks, in the 1970’s and 80’s, I recognized I was a minority. When I walked into cons of my own free will instead of being dragged there by a BF, I was a social unicorn. However, the reaction I got was always positive. Granted, some of them were hitting on me, but when that did not pan out, I did not receive the dismissals of my geekness that femme-geeks are now. When people on comic book message boards found out I was a woman, I was not attacked for it or my validity of fandom questioned. All the women I knew in the fandoms at the time had similar experiences. We got hit on a lot, but no one was dismissing us as fans or being nasty to us just for being women. I was only on the receiving end of misogynist comments once, but that was post 2000 from someone significantly younger than I that could not hold the debate to the topic at hand. (Grant Morrison’s X-Men run sucked, end of.)

So what happened?

I think part of it is the older geek community feeling a bit threatened by the massive influx of new members, especially women, over the last 15 years. Magna, anime, shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and video games were already bringing more people, especially more women, into the fold in the late 1990’s, but LOTR and comic book films blew it wide open. They made geekdom socially acceptable to the general public, which is a wonderful thing. Never in the U.S. have we had so much media to choose from to sate our geek-desires. Never has we had such a large community to share our joy. Even comic books, once the red-headed step child of the SciFi community, are getting the respect they deserve.

But it’s also *so* socially acceptable it has become “fashionable” and the terms “geek” and “nerd” have become trendy and overused. Seriously, just liking Apple products and wearing glasses does not make you a geek. It’s like wearing punk clothing and not knowing who Black Flag is. Come back to me when you can hold an informed conversation one whether Star Wars qualifies as SciFi or Fantasy. Go on now. Shoo.

So I think some of it is the same pattern seen from any established group dealing with new fans. The accusations of “poser!” always abound. There are posers, there always are in social movements that have become fashionable. But more often the accusation is thrown at new fans by insecure old timers, afraid of losing “their” fandom. So are these misogynist attacks because women are the group that has grown the most noticeably over the last 15 years? I think that is a factor, but I think a bigger factor is a reflection of a greater anger toward woman in our society, especially from the younger generation.

Many of us remember (and loved) the “Grrl Power” of the 1990’s, where books like Faludi’s Backlash created an entire pro-women dialog. Just think, all these characters were on TV at the same time!

Imagescullydaria-and-janeBuffyKiraJaneway

(C.J. Craig of the West Wing *almost* overlaps as well, but not quite. Still, I gotta give her some love.)

CJ Criag

It was awesome to be a girl! Unfortunately, some of that came at men’s expense as they tried to redefine their roles and their masculinity in a world where the pendulum had swung away from them. (And I admit, it can’t have been easy on them.)

Now thing to remember is that entertainment industry is controlled by older people dictating to younger people what they are going to watch. In the 2000’s, the media launched a very deliberate counter attack: The glorification the bimbo. Paris Hilton, Brittany Spears, The Girls Next Door, Jessica Simpson. The media told girls and boys that women were supposed to be unintelligent, mean-spirited, opportunistic, trashy, promiscuous (and not in an “sex positive empowerment” sort of way, in a “I measure my self esteem by how many boys want to fuck me” sort of way) and generally worthless human beings to be used as sexual objects or trophies. Certainly not to be respected. (And the possible effect that has had on the openess and acceptability of rape culture is another important discussion entirely.)  I think the younger male geeks drank that in during their formative years and now, with the help of anonymity on the internet and general angst and rage, they make women the targets of some seriously hateful shit on the assumption that women are unintelligent, mean-spirited, trashy, etc.

It’s complete bull shit.

The thing is, femme geeks can complain about this all day, but the kids making these attacks are so misogynist, they just dismiss it as female whining. So we have to combat it with a two pronged attack. Sadly, for a while at least, girls will have to keep proving their geek cred. It sucks, but there it is. When you can name all the classes of the Earth Alliance cruisers or discuss Moorecock’s issue with Tolkien, they will start to have a real conversation with you. In a real conversation with you, they might get the idea that femme geeks in general are “real geeks” who have a lot of offer.  Unfortunately, for femme gamers, beating their ass in CoD just pisses them off more and they get more abusive. Second wing: The people who really need to step in are the older geeks who will put their foot down and tell these douchey little twerps this is not acceptable behavior in our community. For some reason, until just recently their voices have been pretty silent on the kind of abuse out there. Older geeks grew up on the receiving end of bullying, so they tend to not bully others (at least that has been my experience) and they should not accept when others are being bullied.