A Song of High Fantasy and Fire

So I admit it – I’ve been livecasting on Facebook about Doctor Who, in-progress, rather than blogging about it later. Given its one of the few things I watch that a lot of my F-book friends also watch, this, and e-mails, seems to be a good fit. However, with Doctor Who over this year, excepting the Special, and only a half-season during 2012-proper (the world CAN’T end that Christmas, I have to see the Silence!) I’ll be getting back into the swing of this.

My book reading will, for the time being, be going up on F-book too, while I try this Game of Thrones thing out, as an astoundingly large amount of people I know really seem to like it. I even skipped the last 3 books of the Earthsea Quartet (read: only read the first -really, really good – to catch upon this) when I actually realised how many bannermen of House Stark were in my demesne.

Am I jumping on the bandwagon? In many usages of the term, God yes. I’m giving something a chance because of the buzz around it now, with its tv show, that I was vaguely aware of for years but never really looked into. I am fine with that. I’ve done it before. Even with the stuff that came out in my lifetime, Harry Potter for example, I didn’t start until Book 4 came out. True, I did buy all four solely off the back of the description of Albus Dumbledore in Book 1’s beginning, but I thought Harry Potter was the red head on the cover of book 2 (I don’t use ginger, that and the Cavan-people-are-cheap thing were memes I only encountered in college).

But I know the rules of conduct on the bandwagon. Mostly: just catching up patiently on the material and being nice to people further behind than yourself. It is cool to catch something from the beginning and be a part of that, release to release, but, honestly, realising how much of a following something you’re going into has already is pretty cool too. The first book would be worth the investment in just-knowing-what-people-are-talking-about alone. Ironically, I’ll be avoiding this network like the plague, for now – too many spoilers.

I was burned out on High Fantasy for a while there. Naming no names, but I was really tired of books 600 pages long and not being really sure how much of it was merited. Maybe that really is a taste thing, but it wasn’t for me. Reconciling this with my love of Lord of the Rings, even Silmarillion, is tricky, given all the long, detailed walking they did. The best I can say is that while Tolkien tapped into the epic fantasy by presenting us with legendary characters, who didn’t have sex, get colds or use the bathroom, aand that presenting those realities in a fantasy format is an admiral achievement, there was stuff that wore on me.

I didn’t like that at some point, some of the female cast would be in an in-story bdsm scene. I didn’t like that, while the strength and prominence of those characters was wonderful, there was some baseline ‘bitchiness’ that meant they could not trust the male characters, or other female characters, on some basic level, ever. There was always some undertone of the conniving and the deceptive, while the male characters were open about their feelings and motivations – and I felt that books bore that out, that their short-term, off the cuff rescues worked better than the female’s long-term trickery.

And yes, that is a taste thing. I’m sure I totally misread those situations, or that they weren’t as all-pervasive as I felt they were in those series.

In other series, I really hated the contrivances. I hated the all-powerful place of destiny and people being trapped on Scalextric-track of fate. Some prophecies, some predictions, they came with the territory. But some works seemed to have nothing else. I hated that there was only one person who could do anything. Only one person that could do a particular thing – okay, I can see that. But some, it felt, had a large revolving one person who did and knew everything and was fated to do so. Even that wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but the fact that this person had to be entirely unsuited and unknowing of the world they were entering enraged me. It felt like it totally dominated the books I came across for years, that skill was some sort sin.

And you know what – I’m almost certainly wrong about that. There is probably a plethora of High Fantasy books that shuck of Fate entirely, and are populated with a balance of talented, capable characters, and that the books that I’m thinking of were seperated by decades.

I hated the contrivances, with the super-intelligent god-children (mirroring my hatred of super-intelligent robot-children in space opera), with the villains who it seemed were all sociopathic hypocritical fiends and the masses being some poorly herded sheep who turned at the drop of a hat, unless they worked for the villain. I was tired that the only political system that they seemed to know was medieval feudalism, with the odd bit of Roman legislation once in a while. And I hated, hated, hated, that the books had no certain, individual resolutions, just pouring from one to the other.

And I flat out know that that it isn’t all true of all or ever a large section of High Fantasy. I know that was totally wrong. But it was all I knew for a while.

I was in Victoriana for the duration, if you must know. The latest of Rankin and Pratchett, Susanna Clarke, Gail Carringer, etc. It was fantasy, but fate was at a dull roar, the magic systems were a blend of the creative and the regimented, the books plots worked alone and as part of a series and, worst comes to worst, it was about 200 pages, maybe less.

So I’m back. Not to be sourgrapes-laden, but with any luck I’ll have plenty of time before Book 6 comes out to read the first … six. One per year, at least then. I’ll probably regret that statement in a few month’s time. I’ve got a booktoken earmarked for the new Pratchett, and the new Stephen Fry biography, and I’ve got the new Rankin, and some there’ll be some left over after that – I’ll be sure to get both of books three at the same time. And that is 1100 words. Eleven!

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