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What I'm Reading, and why I'm not into it

It's a bad sign in a fantasy novel when people are calling each other 'Boss'.

I picked up a copy of Steven Brust's Dragon , which is part of a fantasy series concerning one Vlad Taltos, assassin.  I'm about a hundred page into it, and beginning to wonder why I'm bothering.

Steven Brust has been praised over and over  on BoingBoing, so when I saw this on the shelf, I figured it would be worth a try.

My Opinion: Mr. Brust has read the Amber series by Zelazny, and extracted all the style points that annoyed me about Amber, and made them his own.

Look, the idea of a fantasy novel is that you are looking at another world, a place totally separate from ours.  Things  are different there.  If the author is not helping you gain that feeling, it's harder to believe.  And when the dialogue is all modern television patter, people being snarky and ironic and using contemporary grammar, I don't know whether I'm looking at a magical assassin in a city of wonders, or a merc in Southeast Asia. 

LeGuin said it in 'The Language of the Night' and in 'From Poughkeepsie to Elfland', and Tolkien talked about it in "On Fairy-Tales".  The author is trying to build another world.  The style, the grammar, the vocabulary all have to help build that belief.  Bujold,  LeGuin, Kay, even Robert Howard make that other world in your head with their style.  Brust uses diffferent nouns, like sword instead of gun and Dragon instead of CEO, but most of the dialogue (and the narrator's internal monologue) could come out of any modern paperback thriller.  Sarcasm and snarkiness have to be used sparingly, and he's smearing them on with trowels.

I'll probably finish it, as a spiritual exercise in self-discipline, and because there's nothing else to do when you're home with a cold.



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 16th, 2010 07:43 pm (UTC)
Might I reccomend the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, by Steven Erikson? It starts with Gardens of the Moon. He's created not only a far-off land, he created an entire world, with different god structures and everything. Hood's Breath, even their curses are different! Or, in the words of Powell's Bookstore staff, Erikson created an expansive, epic world with multiple layers of characters and several intertwining plots. It's sure to keep you busy through this cold and many more.

Jan. 17th, 2010 12:40 am (UTC)
I'll look for that. There's a lot more being published than can possibly be read, so I've almost given up looking for new authors.
Jan. 17th, 2010 02:33 am (UTC)
I discovered the Malazan series while having yet another panic attack over George R. R. Martin's continuedly delinquent A Dance with Dragons. I looked for it at Powells to see if it was out yet, and found a sign beneath the shelf containing Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" declaring in big, bold letters, "WHEN WILL THE HURTING STOP?!" Then it reccomended Erikson. I can't think of a better reccomendation. Although, be forewarned, Martin doesn't explain the magical properties of his world until you're well into it. Without spoiling, I can tell you this much: a warren is, essentially a magical realm parallel to ours, with a specific bent towards a type of power or elemental usage. Magic users can tap it as a source for their spells, and can also open gateways into those realms to use as shortcuts (hopefully) from one place to another.

Jan. 16th, 2010 09:39 pm (UTC)
Sounds like an airport fantasy -- the kind you buy just to busy yourself on a plane and then forget later.
Jan. 17th, 2010 12:41 am (UTC)
Ursula LeGuin, in 'Changing Planes', described airport bookstores as "places that don't sell books, just best-sellers". Yupyupyup.
Jan. 16th, 2010 10:25 pm (UTC)
I don't know how you feel about Steam-punk, but I've been greatly enjoying the Larklight series by Philip Reeve, even though it's a YA series.
Jan. 17th, 2010 12:42 am (UTC)
I've found some so-called YA novels very good reading; Diane Duane's Young Wizards is worth trying IMHO. Thanks!
Jan. 19th, 2010 07:05 am (UTC)
It sounds like you've dived into the midst of a series that you haven't grown with. Starting the Vlad Taltos story with 'Dragon' is like starting the Amber series with The Guns of Avalon—you may eventually pick up some of the backstory, but you're really doing yourself a disservice, and you'll never appreciate the entire saga the way you should.

There is some debate about what constitutes 'the beginning' of the Vlad saga. The first written was Jhereg (and is my personal favorite place to start). However, the first story in the Chronology is Taltos. Jo Walton reviewed all twelve of the currently-written books at Tor.

Written, like 4th, this actually takes place first in the series.

Written second, Jo describes as a perfectly reasonable place to begin the series.

This is the first book written, and is where Vlad is introduced to Loiosh, and where you find out why Loiosh addresses Vlad in the manner in which he does. I always loved the sardonic reptile familiar and his snappy patter, but I've been a fan of the series since the beginning.
Jan. 26th, 2010 03:38 pm (UTC)
I started reading 'Lord of the Rings' with 'The Two Towers', because there wasn't a copy of 'Fellowship' around, so it is possible to come in partway through a series and survive.

I'm willing to give Brust the benefit of the doubt, and I will see about finding those you suggested. But IMO he still suffers from Zelazny's Syndrome: he's using contemporary language to make a fantasy world sound like an action movie or a detective novel. It makes the disbelief harder to suspend, and sooner or later it gets too heavy to hold up. But that's my problem, not yours; thanks for the tips!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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