Friday, December 18, 2009

Committing Minor Sacrilege.


The Night Before Christmas,

unknown illustrator,

published, M.A Donohue, 192?


When the children attained a certain age, after choir and hot chocolate and before a reading from Luke, they were regaled each Christmas Eve by corrupt and seditious parodies of A Night Before Christmas. Included were such lines as: the stockings were hung by the chimney with care/they smelled very bad and they needed the air, and laying a finger inside of his nose...
The kids loved it. It became a family tradition.

I am fond of fantasy and some SF. I hunt down the backlists of my favourites, like Moon and Modesitt, Jr. I re-read Jordan and Eddings. I trade boxes of books with my son-in-law.
A recent rotation included Robin Hobb's Tawny Man trilogy. Having read at one time part or all of her Farseer series, I envisioned quiet evenings of pleasure cuddled under a comforter with the dogs at my feet and a drink by my side. Several evenings, because the volumes run around 700 pages each.

Ah well.

I reached page 300 and so of The Golden Fool when I committed an act of minor sacrilege and tossed the book back in the box.

Perhaps my tastes have changed. Let me make it plain that I still consider Robin Hobbs a witty and brilliant writer who builds characters which are exquisitely human.

But.

Our hero, the former royal assassin, climbed up secret stairs, he climbed down secret stairs, he conferred with people, occasionally he rode out of the castle or walked into town. Three hundred pages of suggestions of danger to come. Of slow set-up. Nothing of substance truly happened. Irresolute interpersonal conflict, yes. Action, no. Eventually, I found it tedious.

Which makes me consider if -- for some or many Fantasy and SF fans -- the lure lies, not in the plot, but in the created and detailed society, world or universe, not in the story but the setting itself. That might explain the profusion of fanlit.

36 comments:

Angie said...

I remember discovering Elizabeth Moon. :) Her early fantasy is still my favorite -- the Paksenarion books, and Gird's book in the same verse. I have a volume of her short stories around somewhere and remember enjoying it, although I only recall one story specifically off the top of my head. I dove into her SF series about Heris Serrano (sp?) and enjoyed that quite a lot at first, but the last few books have been... not bad, but not as good as the earlier ones. Or maybe I'm the one who's getting tired of that series? I'm a few books behind now, and while I plan to catch up some time, I'm not searching the bookstores for each new one the way I used to.

I've never read any Robin Hobb, and don't intend to. If I'm already reading and enjoying a writer when I hear about bad (IMO of course) behavior, it has to be really horrible to get me to stop buying their books, because I enjoy the stories themselves and can separate that from the writer. If I hear about the bad behavior before I've ever tried their stuff, though, it's easy to just shrug and never try them; I don't know what I'm missing, as it were, which makes it easy to look elsewhere. It's not like there's any shortage of good reading material, after all.

[Robin Hobb is virulently anti-fanfic. She's entitled to her opinion, of course, but in my view she's spitting on the fans who support her, when they're doing nothing at all which harms her. She's free to say whatever she likes about it, and I'm free to spend my money elsewhere.]

Segueing into fanfic, yes, wanting to play in a favorite setting is a big draw. The vast majority of fanfic, though, also uses established characters. I've seen much more fanfic which takes the established characters into an alternate universe -- a different setting -- than I have fanfic which puts new (original to the fan writer) characters into the established setting.

If you read a lot of the older, "Golden Age" SF, you'll find a lot more stories where the whole point is to give the writer a chance to say, "Look at my cool ideas!!" whether that meant a new scientific or technical gadget, or a word they invented, or neat aliens, or whatever. The characters tended to be pretty cardboard and the plots were often thin and perfunctory. The more literary SF of the New Wave was, I think, a backlash against that. At this point, we're sort of between the two -- more literary value than much of the older stuff, but not quite so pretentious or artistique as the New Wave.

So yes, there's definitely an attraction to creating or exploring a well-built world, but there has to be something more. The stories and characters have to work too, or the story itself isn't going to work well.

Angie

SzélsőFa said...

I guess being enchanted always wins readers.

wv:haroters
I imagine dintinguished, meaningful and strict gentlemen with sharpe look in their eyes in strange clothes. they are to enforce a certain strange order.
see?

StarvingWriteNow said...

snort!! --laying a finger inside of his nose...

Son and I used to make up our own carols while I drove him back & forth to his dad's place. Some of our "12 Days of Christmas" creations were pretty good!

jason evans said...

I would hope for some robust plot too.

Bernita said...

Angie, I didn't know Hobb was anti-fanfic. I don't read it myself but it seems to me her books positively invite it.

"haroters"???
SzelsoFa, you've lost me.

The problem with parodies, SWN, is sometimes they make it very, very difficult to remember the original!

Bernita said...

Jason, I just became impatient with the carefully detailed motivations, internal regrets, suspicions and suppositions and just wanted her to get on with the bloody story.

SzélsőFa said...

uhm, I'm sorry but this time I have to admit that I need some more light on the matter. Have I done (said) anything wrong?

Whirlochre said...

The very best SF-ers ditch the books in favour of wearing (and making) the costumes.

Then they go trainspotting, speaking only in Klingon.

Bernita said...

Done/said anything wrong?
Of course NOT, Szelsofa, and please don't think that.
I just don't understand the word or how it applies. Any fault is mine, not yours.

Living the fic, I suppose, Whirl.

SzélsőFa said...

Oh, I'm sorry to have confused you. Also I'm glad that I did nothing wrong.
The explanation is simple: 'haroters' was the word for visual verification.
It was so strange it sparkled my fantasy. I imagined these rule-keepers at once.
I was enchanted, and this was a reference back to your post, when there was a great surrounding without much things going on.
I had only one word 'haroters', a non-exsitent word generated by the blogmotor to check if I am human or not and voilá - I was guided to another universe.

omg: now the word I have to type is "tabledie".

raine said...

I would agree, that may be the lure for many Fantasy/SF fans.
But I'm afraid I need a bit more too.

Recently picked up a book by a fantasy author I'd heard great things about. And yes, the worldbuilding was fantastic. She had a lovely prose style, and the book was saturated with details about the society in this alternate universe, its history, the characters and their backgrounds, etc.
But by page 400 of the 800 page novel, I was restless, dazzling worldbuilding or not.
And when something did threaten to happen, the slow buildup led to such a sadistic scene I actually threw the book away--something I do not do.

I wonder if, occasionally, an author might fall in love with their own writing so much that they forget about the reader.

SzélsőFa said...

@raine:I wonder if, occasionally, an author might fall in love with their own writing so much that they forget about the reader.

I bet this is the case. some people do not write for any audicence at all - they write for themselves, either as a therapy, or just for amusement.
*speaking of experience*

moonrat said...

totally with you here. I'm currently rereading The Wheel of Time (which you're probably tired of hearing about from me already, but oh well, here I go again) and after five really rock-solid books with great action, tight plot structure, etc etc, Robert Jordan sank into a 5-book trench of action set-up that never amounted to anything. The last book he wrote before he died (bk 11) was back to excellent, but in between were 5 books, each of 1,000 pages, that took place over a matter of days and during which action was barely forwarded.

A frustrating read, yes. But you're absolutely correct that the only reason I kept reading was because of his world-building. The world he invented is so detailed, intricate, and interesting I would actually sit down and read an encyclopedia about it if one existed. I frequently fritter away hours on the Wheel of Time wiki lookng up factoids about different countries, ethnic groups, and historical wars.

Bernita said...

wv= word verification. Of course! SzelsoFa, sorry I was so dim.
Now I do see - and agree.

Raine, very similar experience and conclusion to mine.

Moonmouse, I'm much more inclined to forgive Jordan than Hobb. Perhaps because he is more epic? His characters more vivid and less, well, mundane? I'm not sure, I do know I'll continue to re-read Jordan and I won't Hobb.

Natasha Fondren said...

Interesting. I was reading some old favorites earlier this year, and was disappointed with some, especially the Oz series, which I'd loved.

I like your theory on the world-building.

Gabriele C. said...

I could never get into Hobb's books - or Modesitt, for that matter. I'm more a reader of the modern, gritty, Fantasy of the Martin/Ruckley/Abercrombie/Erikson/Bakker variant, though sometimes I like to go back to the old loves like Tad Williams. But I must admit that my reading of Fantasy has increased those last years with the changes in the genre. I had outgrown Eddings and his ilk. :)

Though I do read for the setting sometimes - Kate Elliot's Crown of Stars fe., while I took up Jordan too late (I may have liked him better at the time I first read Tad Williams).

fairyhedgehog said...

I love science fiction but there has to be a story and strong characters.

Tanya Huff has a strong female lead in her Valor series as well as a story and I liked Elizabeth Moon's Speed of Dark (about an autistic guy) and Remnant Population (about an old woman) long after I'd tired of her other books.

And look at Firefly/Serenity. That works for me because of the characters.

Bernita said...

Natasha, I felt much the same way reading Norton again. Except for the Witchworld series. I still like those.

Martin is a beautiful, rich writer,Gabriele, but so brutal in his betrayals.

Fairy, one thing I like about both Moon and Modesitt is their variety.I agree, strong characters are essential. More than that, I want to admire them. I don't enjoy recognizing my weaknesses in charracters.

BernardL said...

I'm both a Fantasy fan and an SF fan. I value plot and action quite highly. If the characters are involved in constant dialogue there better be humor. I prefer tedious details be revealed in small doses by the characters in pace with the storyline.

Travis Erwin said...

Once when i was a mere lad of but 17 or so me and my buddies snuck into this seedy bar on Amarillo's North side. While there an old fella perched atop a bar stool recited a very bawdy rendition of Night Before Christmas. It was hilarious and I wish i could remember even part of it.

Bernita said...

Agreed, Bernard. I really like a bit of action and pace.

Travis Erwin said...

My word verification was poonannie. Appropriate since that is what the old mans version was about.

Bernita said...

Travis, me too!

One year, not stockings but "liberals were hung by the chimney with care!" I have no idea now what political dido prompted that one.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I found that very true of her fiction in general, though I do really like it and devoured all her books. That second series though...yeah. Lots and lots of set up.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Tad Williams does go on, but the wordplay! Too much fun, and I don't usually enjoy that sort of thing.

Can't get into Jordan's work. It's slooooowwww and the women are way too whiny/angsty for my tastes. A little of that goes a long way. (Something that I think hinders my own High Fantasy book.)

I love Robin Hobb's worldbuilding, but it's not THAT unique. And of course George RR Martin is a master. I do so love his torturous scenes.

I also really enjoy Carol Berg (never mind that she's a friend - I read her before she was!) and am anxiously awaiting her new book in January.

Bernita said...

That's funny. I find Jordan's females to be a little naggy/bossy/pushy, Betsy! Almost to the point of asexual cliche for the purposes of light gender humour.

writtenwyrdd said...

Mood certainly effects how you take a novel, that's certain. Sometimes I've disliked a book and set it aside for a while and then loved it.

As far as sff goes, it's got to be a good story, but the worldbuilding is the actual payoff. Give me a cool world with good writing and a good story and I'm in heaven. Give me a good world and a mediocre story (possibly unfairly, I think William Gibson qualifies in his cyberpunk novels) and I am still 99% likely to read that tale and like it.

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, and the Paksinarrion trilogy - wonderful stuff! But the followups didn't hold my attention. Neither did most of the Heris Serrano books.

Robin Hobb is hit and miss, I find.

Bernita said...

Written, I didn't care for the follow-ups either, though I truly love the Paksenarrion trilogy. The Serrano series are hit and miss for me, but I like her battle scenes. The Vatta's War set are very good for the first two or three. The last one was a bit ho-hum but it tidied things up.

Rick said...

I tend to agree with writtenwyrdd: As far as sff goes, it's got to be a good story, but the worldbuilding is the actual payoff.

Why we favor (or not!) particular books and authors is often discussed, but why do we favor particular genres, specifically SF/F? Characters and stories happen in all genres, but only SF/F has much worldbuilding, while histfic 'rebuilds' vanished worlds.

So I would think that worldbuilding is a big part of the appeal of those genres.

Bernita said...

Very well put, Rick. An essential part of the definition, in fact.

laughingwolf said...

i'm with you, bernita, 300 + pages of 'setup' would drive me nuts, too!

[btw, seems google has fup duck EVERY site i visit in blogger with TWO ads, and both the same! GRRRRRRR]

[yes, the same two on my own blog!]

Frank Baron said...

I'm afraid I've come to the same, sad conclusion about Hobb's more recent work. She's spending way too much time inside her characters' heads instead of following them around while they're actually DOING something.

Bernita said...

LW,I'm pretty tolerant, but it just became tiresome after 300 bloody pages.
The ways of the internet are beyond my comprehension.

Ah, Frank, thank you...then it isn't just me.

stacy said...

I'd never even heard of Hobbs before today. Probably I'll give her a try, despite the slow set-up. I actually don't mind slow set-ups, but 300 pages may be a little much, even for me.

Bernita said...

If you don't mind the set-up, Stacy, it's likely you will enjoy her mightily. She is, as I have said, a brilliant writer.