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Re: 4-Word Reviews The Belgariad: Standard characters beat villain

The Mallorean: It all happens again

Prince of Nothing: Everyone is an asshole

Broken Empire: Joffrey Baratheon with brains

Sword of Shannara: Lord of the Rings

May 03, 2015, 10:20:40 PM
Re: The Future of Fantasy I'm a tad late to this party, but I'll chime in.

First of all, I, like others here, have never personally been told that my reading preferences are "childish", but I have read multiple "serious" critics treat any new fantasy film, TV series or book with disdain for no other reason than it was fantasy. If you can still find them, try and google negative reviews for the LOTR films (note: not the Hobbit films, the LOTR films). I guarantee that 98% of the negative reviews were people poo-pooing it because it was fantasy. I even remember one critic saying that the movies only did well because parents were taking their children multiple times and insisted that no one over the age of five could like these movies.

There was a review of Game of Thrones that labled it "dragon-ridden fantasy crap" and spent most of the review talking about how the author doesn't read fantasy, doesn't like fantasy and therefore didn't like the show. He apparently did like The Jersey Shore, however, as he suggested the "wedding night" scene between Dany and Drogo was an homage to that show.

Also, I have to agree with all the posters who have said that urban fantasy and paranormal romance are not the same thing. Take it from someone who has read both. For example, I love--love--Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files series. It's amazing, and I will admit that loud and proud. But I tried reading a paranormal romance once when I worked part time in a used book store and the woman who ran it said that I should read it before deciding I didn't like it. Well, I read part of one book. Urban Fantasy it is not. It was basically a thin plot with some excuses for the hot blonde (naturally!) werewolf female lead to bone her werewolf-hunter boyfriend multiple times.

On a side note, suggesting that JRR Tolkien isn't the grandfather of modern fantasy just because people wrote fantasy before him is really missing the point. Tolkien is the man upon whom the foundation for modern fantasy was built. Not Eddison. Not Dunsany. Tolkien. Tolkien wasn't the first fantasy writer and no one would ever suggest such a thing. But he's the man who made fantasy what it is today, directly or indirectly. Now, that's not to say that all fantasy sense then is a pale imitation of Tolkien (though some of it is). I merely say that the innovations that later sprang from the minds of such diverse writers as Donaldson, Eddings, Jordan, Martin, Hobb, Bradley, Lynch, Carey, Abercrombie, Mieville,  Sanderson and a huge list of others, probably would never have been more than "pulp" books that might not have even gotten past genre magazines, or would have been told by publishers that they would need to be released as quick, episodic novella-type series, assuming they were even taken seriously enough to publish. Tolkien is the reason fantasy is taken even as seriously as it is today.

Now, on to the future of fantasy. The future of fantasy, in my opinion, will be greatly helped by a larger, more diverse menu to choose from. This is already happening, and I think it has helped greatly in terms of increasing public awareness and appreciation of it. Oh, we still have a long, long way to go, but thanks to the genre broadening out and including so many subgenres, there is so much more to choose from, and thus, something that almost anyone could enjoy. If you know a friend who kinda thought about getting into fantasy, but doesn't like reading about period settings, there's urban fantasy. If they don't like reading the same fantasy cliche's they see in Disney movies and fairy tales, there's a wide variety of fantasy that is edgier and less predictable without being grimdark. But if grim and dark is what they want, they can have it. Fantasy writers are also coming from more diverse background these days, and they're bringing that diversity into their writing and creating new ways to build character and build worlds that we never would have conceived of in the 80's.

I love this, personally. I don't want fantasy to just become one thing to the exclusion of all others. It was that, for a long while, and that was its worst period. In fact, from about 1990 until 2003 I barely read fantasy at all, and it didn't help that when I went to the fantasy rack at a book store, it seemed like I was faced with rack after rack of RPG scenarios in book form.

Also, I think fantasy is by and large moving away from Giant Doorstopper Series With Ten Volumes That Might Never End (TM). They're still out there, and admittedly I'm a big fan of several of them, but I'm seeing a return to shorter series (quadrilogies, trilogies), even single-volume, and this is definitely not a bad thing. It's pretty intimidating for a person who's never read fantasy, but is considering it, to go to the fantasy section and have a huge shelf space entirely taken up by one series, or alternately to have only one book by a given author on the shelf, so that the customer gets home, cracks it open, and quickly realizes it's book 9 in a twelve-volume set.

May 04, 2015, 06:09:33 AM
Pet Peeves: What makes you put a book down/never pick it up in the first place? The other day while browsing my local book store, I realized I was brushing right past some titles without even reading about them, and I started wondering why I do that. Then I started thinking about other things that have caused me to quit reading a novel or never pick it up to begin with, and I compiled a top six list of my least favorite things to see in fantasy.

This list is purely subjective, and many of my favorite authors are guilty of some of the stuff I'm about to list. I guess this is mainly a way of getting this off my chest, but I would like to know if you have a similar list.

6: Titles like "The Something of Something." This is the lowest ranked because, like I forewarned, several of my favorite authors do this. But then, many don't. I'm always secretly (or not so secretly) thankful when authors in the fantasy genre manage to come up with something other than a "Something of Something" title. This isn't necessarily because titles like that are automatically bad. It's just that there are so many within our genre. I would say that our favorite genre accounts for probably 80% of the "Something of Something" titles in any book store, despite being less than half the size of other sections. Think of your favorite writer or favorite series; I almost guarantee most of them have at least one "Something of Something" title.

5: Nonsense words in the title. Again, this is just me, but when I see a book with a word in the title that it's clear the author made up, I tend to want to skip it. My take is, hook me with a snappy title that communicates your story's purpose and/or tone, then tell me about the person/place/thing your story focuses on. I'm far more apt to pick up a book called, say, The Blade Itself than I would be to pick up the same thing if it had been called, let's say, The Redemption of Jezal. I know that many classics do this. I know that several really good books of the modern age do this. But a book will have to come pretty highly recommended if it does this before I'll be all that interested. Guy Gaveriel Kay is probably the worst offender here. If I have no idea what Tigana, Arbonne, Al-Rassan, Sarantium, et al, even is, what incentive do I have to read about them?

4. Bland titles. Worse than a nonsense word in a title is a title that sounds like you just went to your favorite fantasy title generator and picked from the list it came up with. So many titles use words like "king", "sword", "emperor", "blade", "crown", "throne", "knight", "warrior", etc. that for a book to literally just pick any two or three of those words and make a title out of it is not all that impressive. That's not a hard and fast rule; Half a King or The King's Blood is pretty evocative, but The Emperor's Blades or The Knight is not.

3. Prophecy-driven plots. I don't mean plots that have prophecy in them, or even plots in regard to a prophecy regarding our main character. There are ways to make that innovative. I'm referring to plots where the prophecy is A) what really kicks off the plot, B) assumed by all characters to be true, C) is the prime motivator for their actions and D) causes characters to do things they ordinarily would not just because the prophecy says they must. If any character ever says anything like "you have to do so; the prophecy foretold it!" then you know you're in a prophecy-driven story and it's just a really lazy way of writing motivation.

2. Portal stories. Forgive me, but one of the first things to make me not even want to buy a book is to make it about a young person, or group of young people, transported from our world to a fantasy realm. Yes, there are ways to do this creatively, or to turn the convention of what I described on its ear, and when writers can do that, they have my appreciation. But so often it's just so that we can have a character we "identify" with who's just as new to this world as we are and thus can have things explained to them so that the author can explain it to us. I would much rather you throw me into your world and have me so focused on the characters and plot that the rest of it just falls into place.

1. Padding. Enough said.

May 10, 2015, 02:59:37 AM
Re: Pet Peeves: What makes you put a book down/never pick it up in the first place? In my case, the character has to be interesting and engaging, even if I would never like this person in real life. Also, some characters you're not actually supposed to like.

Let's use the First Law trilogy, my favorite Grimdark series, for example.

I've heard people say that they quit reading because they "hated Jezal." Well, duh! You were supposed to! Later on, much later, he redeems himself somewhat but really, Jezal was not meant to be liked.

Contrarily, I really liked Logen Ninefingers and Glokta. Sure, Glokta was an asshole, but he was a fun asshole, a witty deadpan snarker who actually had a sense of right and wrong despite daily breaking it.

And Bayaz may be one of the greatest characters ever created.

So, yeah, I understand about needing someone to root for, even if I don't always need one myself, but really, if you need a hero you can truly root for, there's Logen, and the others are pretty interesting as well.

May 10, 2015, 06:02:01 AM
Re: Pet Peeves: What makes you put a book down/never pick it up in the first place?
Curious what the problem was. I haven't read it but it looked good and it's rated pretty high on goodreads.
We did it as a book club read a few months ago. I enjoyed a lot about it. But as to women:

Spoiler for Hiden:
One is forced to have sex with a noble to save her husband
One is a holy prostitute who has sex with our hero to save his soul
One is the naked assassin
One is a conniving evil noble
One is an arrogant, but clueless innocent
One is a brave little girl whose father slept with many women to ensure he would have many children... in order to save the kingdom
Every straightforward positive charcater is... wait for it... a guy   :o

I just think that's overall weird. Now, I think the author has it set up for more positive women charcaters in the next books, but I'm afraid he lost me completely with this. Funny thing is, I say lots of crap stuff on the forum and people often agree, disagree, etc. I've mentioned this a bunch of time about Traitors Blade and can't recall anyone saying anything in response.

See that?
Really?!  ;) ;D
That's a shame. It does seem like a good series and there are plenty of great reviews out there for it, so I was kind of excited about reading it (also, while its sequel definitely does fall under the category of "bland titles", the title of the series itself and probably the first book really don't.)

The treatment of women in a pseudo-medieval time period is always tricky. No matter what, you risk angering someone. Leave them out completely and you're not an equal-opportunity writer. Write women who kick ass and take names, and you're accused of being "unrealistic" (as if it's not a world you created, seeing as it's fantasy) and just writing the women as just "men with breasts". Write her to have a more traditional role in that sort of society and you're a sexist pig. If she's portrayed as not enjoying such a role, she's a victim and you're still sexist for writing her that way. If she's powerful but a villain, you're threatened by powerful women. If she's powerful and heroic, she's a Mary Sue, and etc., etc.

But there is a difference between placing women in a traditional role for the setting vs. taking seeming pleasure in demeaning them. That was one of the (many) reasons I could not bring myself to finish the Prince of Nothing series. All the main female characters exist mainly so that the male characters can get laid. They're all prostitutes or concubines, seemed very weak-willed and victimized/manipulated by everyone. Oddly enough I've seen women defend that series.

That said, I've always held that there is a difference between depiction and celebration. Broken Empire has a protagonist that does a lot of horrible things, rape included, but Mark Lawrence clearly doesn't expect us to approve or excuse it because Jorg is a truly bad guy. I kept waiting for Thomas Covenant to receive some comeuppance and when it became clear he wasn't going to get any, I quit reading.

May 12, 2015, 04:41:21 PM
Re: The King's Paws Actually it's to the tune of "Rock Star" by Nickleback, but yes, the words are mine.

It's supposed to start

"'Cause we all just wanna be King of the North
And live in big tall castles with the best sworn swords"

Read that with the rest and think of the tune (youtube it if you're not familiar) and it works.

And no, I'm not a Nickelback fan. Just thought turning "I wanna be a rock star" into "I wanna be Robb Stark" was too funny to pass up.

PS: Also, I purposefully made it about the TV Robb, not GRRM's Robb, because I wanted to make a youtube parody video and I figured that's who the general public would be more familiar with. Also "Talisa" scans better than "Jeyne" and it's the TV version who clearly just follows his penis rather than possibly being bewitched.

May 14, 2015, 08:42:43 PM
Fantasy maps and why they're (sometimes) necessary I have recently been re-introduced to some comments made by a few fantasy authors on the topic of maps that range from dismissive to actively hateful.

While I once bristled at the thought, in recent years thanks to several novels where maps weren't included and there was no resulting detriment to the book, I've come to determine that while a map for the reader is not always necessary, for the secondary-world-creating writer, it is an absolute necessity.

Joe Abercrombie, in his blog post "Maps. Craps?" posits that fantasy is often told too much in "wideshots" while novels like the ones he writes are more tightly centered on character, with geography being less important. He writes: "I wanted my readers to feel like they were right there with the characters – right inside their heads, if possible – part of the action rather than floating dispassionately above it. I wanted to tell a story as close-up as I could, so you can smell the sweat, and feel the pain, and understand the emotions. I want a reader to be nailed to the text, chewing their fingernails to find out what happens next, not constantly flipping back to the fly-leaf to check just how far north exactly Carleon is from Uffrith, or whatever. The characters often don’t know what’s going on – they don’t have a conveniently accurate map to hand, why should the reader?"

To some extent, I see what he's saying, and I agree. After all, the characters and story should be the focus of any novel, regardless of genre, but one thing he doesn't point out is that his books--all of them--are travelogues, whether or not he intended them to be. There's a fvck-ton of leaping from place to place. These guys are in the North, these guys are in Dagoska, these guys in Adua, etc. In one scene a map is printed on the surface of a large floor. It would have provided a nice visual aid to have a map we can compare with the one Bayaz vaguely describes. Not to mention just how often the "circle of the world" and its numerous continents/countries are talked about.

Another book I read recently that has no map is Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Stairs. A good 99% of that novel takes place in one city, and references to "the continent" and the nation of Saypur are made throughout. We know they're neighbors, one used to occupy the other but now the tables have turned and that's all we really need to know. No map was necessary.

That said, it was clear in both cases that Bennett and Abercrombie have made maps of their own. Abercrombie even says he has; "I don’t have any printed, but you can bet your ass I’ve got a whole load of ’em in a ring-binder somewhere." Of course, his last two novels do have maps, and Best Served Cold had pieces of one scattered throughout, so he must at some point have realized that even the way he tells stories, maps can help.

David Gemmell also didn't include a map, but the way he wrote left me with the impression of a large, untamed wilderness with cities dotted here and there, so really I didn't feel like I had to picture much except treks across barren tundra and/or forests.

Stephen Hunt said he doesn't include maps because it felt "too RPG-ish". I don't understand that at all because the whole "fantasy map" idea is the brainchild of Tolkien, not Gygax, et al.

Probably the most vehement anti-map guy is Terry Goodkind, who does include a map but is one of those guys with an uncreative scrawl that screams "my publisher made me include this!", which is exactly what Goodkind claims is the case. He says maps aren't necessary and are even a deterrent to good storytelling because they distract from the plot and character, which is where the reader's attention should be focused. I tend to agree, but here's the problem:

A lot of second-world fantasy, even in the modern age, includes a lot of travel or at least a lot of locations. While it's not always 100% necessary, I like to at least be able to visualize where the characters are in their world. It makes this unreal world a bit more real in my mind. Goodkind talks about how, if John Grisham writes about someone traveling from a courthouse to a coffee shop, he doesn't feel the need to draw you a map as to where the coffee shop is in relation to the courthouse. Similarly, guys like H. Rider Haggard didn't feel the need to include a map because their stories took place in our world. If we really need to, we can look at a real map of the world, plus we don't really need to know about a lawyer's journey from courthouse to coffee shop. You've seen one bustling metropolitan area, you've more or less seen them all.

That said, secondary worlds are not real. If you're setting your world somewhere that doesn't exist, we have no idea where one country, city, sea, continent, etc., is in relation to each other, and we rely upon the author to let us know this. Sometimes it really doesn't matter, especially if the story takes place in just one city. I've already mentioned City of Stairs but other stuff that springs to mind includes Richard Ford's Herald of the Storm.

I'm sure some publishers in the past have insisted on a map, which might very well have led to some of the more ridiculous maps we've seen, but here's the thing; I don't care if you don't want to share the map with the reader, but you need to do two things if you're creating a secondary world. One: you need to make a map for yourself and make sure you're following it, and Two: You need to write in such a way that the reader can visualize where the characters are in relation to each other.

Abercrombie was pretty good at this. When I finally saw a fan-made map of the circle of the world, it was more or less just as I pictured it. Terry Goodkind is terrible at it, and even the map he included gave me no understanding of the scale of his world.

August 12, 2015, 09:56:21 PM
Re: 4-Word Reviews First Law: Hey, Tolkien, eat this!

Wizard's First Rule: Consistency? What is that?

Stone of Tears: Richard is always right.

Blood of the Fold: Richard wrong? See above.

Temple of the Winds: Rape ALL the women!

Soul of the Fire: Evil chicken. Enough said.

Faith of the Fallen: Freaking STATUE inspires revolt.

Pillars of Creation: What's with the goat?

Naked Empire: "Hatred of moral clarity??"

A Song of Ice & Fire: Death, death, sex, DEATH

Iron Tower: A hack rewrites LOTR

August 12, 2015, 10:18:34 PM
Re: Fantasy maps and why they're (sometimes) necessary Yeah, I don't really understand why Abercrombie thinks so poorly of maps.

Now, with Goodkind, I sorta get it because he's so adamant that he does not write fantasy, and compares himself to non-fantasy authors: "They don't need a map, so why should I include one?"

Two reasons, Terry. First, unlike Grisham, Clancy, Brown, Baldacci, etc., follow me closely here, YOUR WORLD IS NOT REAL. The reason those guys don't need to include a map is because we live in the same world their story is taking place in. If the characters travel to the Ivory Coast and we've forgotten where the Ivory Coast is, most of us have access to a map of the world and we can find it. If your characters travel to Nicobarese and you don't include enough detail to let us know where Nicobarese is in relation to Aydindril or Kelton or wherever, we have no idea if they're traveling north, south, east, west, how long it will take to get there, etc. Some dramatic tension is lost when a character says "We have to get to the People's Palace!" as though it's urgent yet I have little to no idea of how long it will take them to get there. A day? An hour? Then I start to lose interest in their plight.

Second, having a map of a fictional world makes it feel more real. Abercrombie, you might want to pay attention, too. And you, Stephen Hunt. Having a map of a fictional world makes it feel more like an actual place. Growing up, I was immersed in two classic series: The Chronicles of Narnia and the Middle-Earth books. Narnia always felt like fairy land to me, and as an adult I now realize that it was because the lack of a map made me feel like the structure of the land was immaterial. Reading Prince Caspian as an adult, I was struck for the first time about how the Pevensie children reacted to the physical changes in Narnia, because as a kid Narnia always felt amorphous to me. But no; Narnia is a continent, an actual land mass that is affected by the passage of time and the movements of whatever tectonic structure its planet has. It just never felt that way because other than a few sparse details about its various lands and where the White Witch's castle and Cair Paravel are, etc., we get little, if any, detail about what it looks like.

Middle-Earth felt like an alternate reality. Wherever the characters were, I could instantly picture it. Arda was a world to me. Its continents had land-mass, I knew about its various countries and cities, and I knew that other than what the passage to time can do to a land, that it would remain a solid, physical place. I felt like it was somewhere I could go, set foot on, etc. And now I realize it was because there was a map included.

Now, as an adult, sometimes the lack of map doesn't bother me because I can use my imagination as to where things are. Sometimes I almost would have rather the author didn't bother with a map because the ones they include are horrible. But a good map will always make the book better and allow me to lose myself in the story more because I start to feel like it's a real place. ASOIAF and the Chathrand Voyage books have excellent maps and that was part of what drew me in.

August 14, 2015, 02:45:42 PM
Re: Favorite fantasy books with unusual settings
I'd say Ketty Jay isn't steampunk, since there's no steam tech/magic at all. Most steampunk does have a Victorian aesthetic too, which KJ doesn't have either...  :-\

And yeah, everyone should give it a go, it's brilliant.  ;D
Ketty Jay is dieselpunk, but it definitely contains many of the hallmarks generally associated with steampunk (as does a lot of steampunk). But no, not all steampunk is Victorian. Some of it takes place in America, Japan or other countries, which, while the time period might be right, can't be called "Victorian" as that word usually applies to England.

But, that said, there's such a thing as a steampunk fantasy world.

September 08, 2015, 10:32:15 PM