Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Fairy Tale 

I just finished reading Tad Williams' The War of the Flowers, and it was a pretty good read for what it was. I picked it up after finishing my last book, Acts of Faith, which was very serious, because I wanted something light and frivilous. That was pretty much what I got. Flowers was a fast read and an engaging story about a young man who finds himself transported to a fairy tale world that is in the midst of political upheaval. Naturally, he's wrapped up in it and doesn't know. (My buddy Griffin, over at Beyond the Zero, always referred to these kinds of stories as "the one true guy with the one true sword" stories.) By and large, that's how this story plays out, but the young man, Theo, doesn't play a very good hero character. He's more the C3P0 type of hero - bumbling.

I've found Tad Williams to be distinctly hit or miss in the past. I could not work my way into his Otherland series at all - it had no plot and just wandered. This would be ok for a book of 200 pages, but at 900 pages plus for four volumes, it wasn't worth the effort. Now, his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series was excellent. It had both plot and character development and was a compelling, if oft told, fantasy-quest type story. But, if you like that, as I do, there's nothing wrong with it, just nothing particularly innovative.

Now Williams has another series out, this one a two volume series I think, called Shadowmarch. I looked at it in the bookstore, and, after reading the back, decided it sounded all too familiar. It sounded to me as if he read George R.R. Martin, really liked the Wall sequences, and thought he'd write a whole book about that kind of thing. I dislike copycat writers. Williams is a good writer in his own right; he's got a good sense of style about him and he can create inspiring and believable characters. Just write your OWN story man!!

Speaking of George R.R. Martin, his books were the last Truly Amazing fantasy books I read (there are a ton of horrible fantasy stories out there, several mediocre ones, a few Truly Amazing ones, and only one Tolkien). I just wish the series were finished. Book 4 of 7 (we think) came out a couple of years ago and he swears he's almost done with 5. But I didn't read 4. I only started them because I thought it was the standard fantasy trilogy, but now, it seems despite speaking to the contrary, he is trying to become the next Robert Jordan. (I gave up on Jordan's books years ago.)

If anyone knows about any other Truly Amazing fantasy stories out there, I'd love to hear about them. But it seems 'til Martin is done writing, I'm stuck with mediocre stuff or no fantasy at all (which is more likely the route I'll take rather than read much more drivel, like Gene Wolfe's highly touted Shadow and Claw, which I put down in a rare move after the first 200 pages or so).

Anyway, on now to a little Cormac McCarthy as you can see from the sidebar.



She is hardly new-- in fact, she died several years ago-- but I loved Marion Zimmer Bradley's books. She became most noted for "The Mists of Avalon," but I became a fan because of her Darkover books. They are a series, in that they all take place in the same setting; but they are not necessarily dependent on one another, and may be read in any order. She also edited a "Sword and Sorceress" anthology series which was quite good.

By Blogger Jane Ellen, at 11:24 AM  

Not really "Truly Amazing" fantasy as such, but Terry Pratchett's Discworld books are good, if a bit silly at times. The city watch books in particular (starting with Guards! Guards! and encompassing about 6 others) are my favorites. The nice thing about Pratchett is that most of the books can be read as stand-alone novels with lots of references to other books. That is, you don't have to read them in order to understand what's going on in the current book.

I've sort of drifted away from high fantasy recently, mostly for reasons you've already mentioned. Most of the stories are just rehashings of Tolkien, only less well done.

So, on a less high fantasy oriented note...S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire and it sequels (only 2 for a complete trilogy) were really, really good. I actually bought the hardcover for the final novel because I didn't want to wait for the paperback to come out.

Also, Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy was very good.

By Anonymous Hudd, at 6:20 PM  

Thanks for these! Hudd, Pullman is not only on my list, but is on my bookshelf and is next in line. You've been telling me about him for a while now, so I finally will follow through!


By Blogger Ryan, at 11:41 AM  

Er, and on a semi-related note, the Pullman books (technically categorized as children's/young adult) are being made into a movie, with Compass coming out this December

By Anonymous Hudd, at 11:58 AM  

Have you read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell yet? That's some Truly Amazing fantasy, right there...

Pullman's His Dark Materials is an amazing exercise in world-building/alternate reality, is theologically provocative, but by the third book, it really seems to lose steam and Pullman has a hard time just getting out of the story. Let me know what you think after you've read them...

By Anonymous Adam Jacob, at 3:31 PM  

I'll of course agree on the greatness of His Dark Materials, but I'll also have to respectfully disagree with the above comment on how the third book wasn't so good. While neither the second nor third books have the same emotional impact as the first one does, in the later books he begins intellectualizing (is that a real word?) to a new level... and that's what makes the series, in my opinion, ultimately interesting.

Pullman is often referred to as the anti- C. S. Lewis, and while I can see how people would think that, he's really more of a neo-Milton... the whole story is essentially a retelling of Paradise Lost. And once he gets towards the end, the 'heretical' elements really take a more front and center stage.

Ok, now I'm sure you're thinking about the downside of using heresy for shock value. And if that was really the case, I'd be the first to agree with you. But when you bring it back to its Miltonian source, and consider the fact that these books were written for young adults, you have to admire Pullman's bravery at tackling such heavy, thought-provoking themes. Any book intended for a young audience that questions the nature of an almighty deity (not the existence of, that's never in question in these books, but rather the nature of the Almighty's existence) will certainly attract my attention.

Of course, considering how much people criticize Harry Potter for its supposedly anti-Christian themes, it'll be interesting to see what happens when the movie comes out. They've already said that they've changed the pronunciation of 'daemon' (demon) to 'daymon' in the movie.

By Anonymous Griffin, at 8:21 PM  

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