Tag Archives: Fantasy

The Lord of Some Rings – or, how I learned to love “The Sword of Shannara”

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Yes, “The Sword of Shannara” by Terry Brooks has awesome/awful/epic cover art, doesn’t it?

As I get older, I find myself less and less bothered by what people think about the things that I enjoy – hence, I’ve chosen to return to Brooks’ first novel, after abandoning it previously in a fit of peevishness over the debt owed by the novelist to some obscure fantasy novels written by a British academic, back in the day.  My reason?  It’s not original, it’s not clever, but it is fun – if you allow yourself to just enjoy it as fantasy novel candy, rather than genre-busting, transformational literature which alters the landscape of the form forever after.

In many ways, it doesn’t surprise me that Brooks would eventually go on to pen the tie-in novelisation for “Star Wars – Episode One: The Phantom Menace” as his work has a fair bit in common with George Lucas’ ultimately divisive sci-fantasy blockbuster.  Both writers lean heavily on breathless plotting, well-established archetypes/tropes and a sensibility so at odds with the critical establishment that it could well be deliberate.

Neither can be said to produce what might be referred to as high art and both are doing very well, thank you kindly, out of their nerdy, un-hip, Saturday morning serial brand of adventure yarn.  And, on the evidence of “Sword of Shannara”, the 1977-vintage Brooks and Lucas were slightly confused by girls and, not knowing how to write such mysterious creatures, didn’t bother to.

This is knowingly nerdy stuff, folks, with all the plucky Dwarves, ethereal Elven warriors and mysterious Rogue leaders that you could yearn for/fear of in fantasy fiction.  Your tolerance for it may directly correlate to how much you can handle post-Tolkien fantasy and whether or not your brand of escapism cleaves more to the grimy, neo-realistic worlds of George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie and Richard Morgan.  I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with either, but I do find myself drawn more to a more optimistic take on extraordinary events – which, for an often cynical soul like me, is quite a turnabout.

As ever, the idea of ploughing through many years worth of trilogies and series by an author fills me with some trepidation but I’ll report back if “…Shannara” continues to entertain me as it has been doing for the last week or so.

 

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Fantasy Fiction Feast

What, me – indulge in basic photo editing to preserve some semblance of anonymity? The very idea!

The Central Library in Sheffield held an afternoon event this weekend celebrating fantasy fiction in all its diversity by hosting writers and publishing folk from Angry Robot books and I went along to indulge in all the nerdy goodness on offer.

The writers who spoke and read were Mike Shevdon, Anne Lyle, David Tallerman and Gav Thorpe, who the “Warhammer 40K” devotees amongst you will know for his work in that uber-dark sci-fi universe.   Each writer gave a brief introduction to themselves and their work and would probably have swelled my reading list ten-fold had I not exercised unusual restraint in my book purchases on the day.

Restraint? Me? With books? Surely some terrible mistake has occurred…

Behold – The book that I paid hard-earned cashews for…

As pictured above, I went away with a copy of David Tallerman’s “Giant Thief”, as I had previously raced through the first fifty pages of the novel on a library loan and put it aside in order to pick up a signed copy at the Fantasy Readers day.  It’s definitely worth a look if you like the flawed rogues and anti-heroes that Joss Whedon is so good at creating – Tallerman’s protagonist, Easie Damasco is an unshaven, fairly unscrupulous ne’er-do-well trapped in the middle of a land war and trying not to be a hero.  Angry Robot’s own jacket copy suggests that if you enjoyed Scott Lynch‘s genius “The Lies of Locke Lamora” you might well dig this fantastical adventure, and that’s fairly on the money -though there’s infinitely less swearing in “Giant Thief” from what I recall of my brief time with Mr Tallerman’s novel.

‘Tis a righteously enjoyable romp and I look forward to devouring it in short order as I attempt to race through more fantasy fiction before some small-time Peter Jackson film opens in the middle of December.  I’ve heard it’s going to be quite the thing…

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Ray Bradbury – “All My Friends Were On The Shelves Above”

Ray Bradbury – Born August 22, 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois. Died June 5, 2012 in Los Angeles.

Ray Bradbury, fantasy and speculative fiction writer, died yesterday in Los Angeles after a long illness.

Letters of Note today presents a lovely letter from the great man to a library, concerning the inception of  “The Fireman” which eventually became his celebrated novel, Fahrenheit 451(the novel, he argued, which was his only true work of science fiction – he saw himself as a creator of fantasies).

When a writer like Bradbury passes, if you’re anything like me, you suddenly realise that you’ve not read nearly enough of his work.  That’s a sad state of affairs which I mean to address at the library this weekend – I like to think that Bradbury would approve of using this most underrated and glorious of resources to further explore his body of work.

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This week, in Fulsome Fantasy Fiction…

If you’re keeping track of these things – and there’s no good reason on Terra that you should be – I’ve finally finished ploughing through the first instalment of German fantasy writer Markus Heitz‘s “The Dwarves” series.  730 pages down, only around a couple of thousand more to go.  Yay for post-Tolkien endurance!

“Blood of Elves” – by Andrzej Sapkowski – it’s way nerdy. Realize.

I’m now waiting for the second chunky volume in Heitz’s series to arrive and so have turned my attentions to another European fantasy novel – Andrzej Sapkowski‘s Blood of Elves – with a collected volume of Stan NichollsOrcs also lined up and ready to go.

Harold Ramis’ clever cloning comedy, “Multiplicity”

Increasingly, I find myself believing that Harold Ramis‘ clone comedy Multiplicity had kind of the right idea when it comes to apportioning time and effort to various tasks – if only I had a Fluffrick clone to go out and do the less than exciting work stuff and leave me the time that I need to keep up with my reading.

Whatever you’re reading this weekend, be sure to enjoy it and why not share a brief review/blog link in the comments?

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Epic Fantasy Avengers Assemble!

The Heraldic Shield of Awesome Sauce

Nifty shield courtesy of the genius nerds at Fantasy Shields.com

Inspired by a post over at the Tor Books blog, which posits a line-up for a Fantasy equivalent of “The Avengers“, I couldn’t let a day go by without pledging my team of Ye Olde Awesome Fictional Nerds into the fray…

To lead this band of brothers, sisters and brigands?

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We’re going to need magic – that’s a given.  We’re also going to need some one with quick wit, nifty sartorial skills and every team has to have one member liable to go off the deep end and indulge their dark side every so often.  Severus Snape is the complete package.  Just make sure that he hasn’t worked his mojo on the team’s +5 to Health Mead beverages and we’ll be fine.  Think of him as Nick Fury, sans eye patch but replete with devastating sarcasm and lank locks of doom.

Sorcery taken care of – next, we’ll be needing some brute strength, Tank-style.

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Because, you know, Hellboy is Teh Awesomez and is more than a match for his Hulkness.  Also, somebody with his chequered past, supernatural Rolodex is and possessed of The Right Hand of Doom is going to be a cat that you want to have on side when the intergalactic/dimensional cannon fodder start showing up en masse.

If we’ve got magic and damage on lock down, we should be looking at having a sneaky, acrobatic, multi-tasking assassin on side.  Preferably with cute, pointy ears.

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That’s Felicia Day as Tallis in the web series for EA’s otherwise unloved Dragon Age 2.  Elf representation covered, quick wits aplenty and she could probably dash out a nifty Elven ballad or two around the team camp fire on a cold night in the forest.

If we’re basing our team around the Avengers template, I’m going to have to find a Tony Stark/arcane technology specialist from somewhere. And given my abiding love for the video games, we’re going to kill two ancient beasts with  one stone.

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Yep, that’s the Alchemist class from “Torchlight” – who’s as near as dammit to being both Iron Man and Black Widow in the same package.  At least when I’m playing, that is.  Multi-tasking?  Me?  On a school night, yet?  But of course…

We’re going to need somebody who can handle a bow and arrow and take down fools with almost disdainful aplomb…

Yep, Neytiri from “Avatar”, you’ll do nicely (and as some would argue that “Avatar” was more fantasy than SF, there’s certainly a case to be made…)

I confess, I’m slightly at a loss for a Captain America analogue in my uncanny squadron of fantastic misfits – any ideas will be gratefully accepted…

(Not So) Stealth Edit!

After going away and thinking about it for a while – I’m giving the Cap role in my coterie of weird heroes to….

Gabriel Belmont, conflicted warrior hero of the recent “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow” revamp – he’s got the combat thing down pat and can brood for days.  Armour? Check.  Strong moral convictions? After a fashion.  He’s probably got some kind of shield to employ that I’ve yet to find, down some back alley in the game.  Yep, he’s in.

As Garrett points out in the comments, I’m still in need of a good fictional Thor analogue – and suggests Ares, from Greek mythology, but also reinvented for various Marvel titles in the expanded “Avengers” family.

He’s a massively overpowered warrior from antiquity thrust into the modern era, able to summon ancient weaponry from his Mythological Ancestral home, battle like a maniac and has a history with the wider “Avengers” continuity.

Yep, he’s in…

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Fat Reads, Groaning Bookshelves

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This post is inspired by a thread over at the nerd-friendly Sword & Laser reading group over at Good Reads – blimey, sci-fi and fantasy books are a bit on the portly side, wouldn’t you agree?  Not for many world-building fantasy authors the notion of a quick and dirty, 260 page novel – that’s barely a preface in the realm of the elves and darkling folk!

As much as I love the process of getting a new book, cracking the covers and disappearing into a new world, I still get a little intimidated when I pick up Markus Heitz‘s “The Dwarves” (my latest read) and noting that it runs to 733 pages – that’s a commitment and a half, particularly when you consider that this book is but the first entry in a series (Book two, “The War of the Dwarves”, is a girthy 752 pages, book three “Revenge of the Dwarves” is 800 pages and the final “The Fate of the Dwarves” is back to a manageable 752 pages).

That’s a long time to spend reading about diminutive bad asses with lovely beards and lethal axes, I’m sure you’ll concur.

One of the criticisms of this kind of fiction is that it tends to urgently need the services of an editor to weed out florid over-writing and excessive descriptions of armaments and architecture but that’s not necessarily a problem for me – I don’t need detail to aid my immersion in a fantasy universe but it does help to have a sense of what things look like and from where in history the author may have drawn from.  Educational and nerdy – my favourite combination!

The only problem with this kind of fiction – other than the hipness or lack thereof, which doesn’t bother me for a second – is that I’m going to need bigger book shelves sometime soon.  That or the local branch of Oxfam are going to get a bumper donation of older books next week.

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Appropriate Attired Adventurers Assemble!

Well, this is awesome.

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Fantasy and SF book blog A Dribble of Ink turned me onto this neat Tumblr – Women Fighters in Reasonable Armour and I’m rather taken with it.  It collates examples of fantasy and SF artwork depicting female characters garbed in attire which is actually practical and appropriate to the ass kickery which they are engaged in.

I’ve blogged about this before in relation to my beloved “Resident Evil” and “Underworld” movie series – and I guess that there’s an tie-in with the current blockbuster “Avengers” movie – in which your strong, competent heroines are togged out in PVC/Leather catsuits or some derivation thereof.  I’ve found it a bit curious, to be honest, with all kinds of mixed messages suggesting themselves:  I love the (mostly) empowered heroines, I’m just not crazy about the ass-hugging camera angles frequently employed to depict them.

It’s that cross-over point between agency and objectification – which I’m sure as hell not smart enough to figure out by myself (there may be that undeniable masculine perspective which is also standing in the way of better understanding).  That said, I feel that the issue goes something like this – the phenomenon of ‘male gaze‘ is the problem in most depictions of otherwise strong female characters in genre entertainment.

Let’s say that two directors on a film both shoot variations on the same scene with a female warrior in an action scene.  The details of the scene are identical, but for the way that the female character is shot – one director frames the female character neutrally, allowing her to proceed through the sequence without the camera lingering on her body or focussing on anatomy in any particular way.  The other guy is Michael Bay.

Rosie Huntington-Whitely - also pictured, Michael Bay's explosive super-ID...

You can begin to see the problem if you took in a screening of the thirdTransformers film – in which Bay’s camera leered so constantly after star Rosie Huntington-Whitely‘s rear end that it was possible to conclude that the director missed his calling in life and might have sought more appropriate employment as a proctologist.

It’s possible to argue that Hollywood’s M.O. is to market around visuals and aesthetics, so can’t do anything but focus on eye candy and create narratives in which the visual shorthand is paramount (no pun intended), but there’s got to be a point in superhero narratives, fantasy fiction and sci-fi stories where common sense prevails and the heroines aren’t attired in costumes which make no fricking sense.

Jim C Hines - making my point about the 'male gaze' in hilarious fashion.

If Hollywood starts insisting that Jason Statham wear armour-plated Speedos as he kicks in henchmen’s teeth and that action heroes have to be dressed in as vulnerable a fashion as possible, I suppose that we might be said to have reached some kind of parity in the depiction of  the genders when every hot dude is being as exploited as much as every beautiful gal.  Over in the realm of fiction, writers have been engaging with the silly archetypes and imagery being used to market their novels – witness io9’s posts on fantasy writer Jim C. Hines, who has been writing a series of blog posts deconstructing some of the tactics used to market books to readers in a charming and self-effacing way.

Sensible armour, worn by a sensible young woman. Almost makes up for Bella in "Twilight" being such a drip, doesn't it?

There is hope, of course – forthcoming summer fantasy blockbuster “Snow White & The Huntsman” goes some way towards depicting a capable heroine who doesn’t have to wear a chain mail bikini to wield a sword and punch undead beasties in the ‘nards, the “Alien” prequel which isn’t, Ridley Scott‘s “Prometheus”, seems to wait a decent amount of time before finding a narrative reason for female lead Noomi Rapace to show up in her pants and even the catsuited heroine of “The Avengers”, Scarlett Johansson‘s Black Widow, might be wearing a catsuit but isn’t striking cheesecake poses, breaking a heel and waiting for her male compadre to save her.

Do these archetypes exist because we’ve established a taste for them as an audience or because we’ve been told that this depiction of heroes and heroines is what we want?

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