Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fast Tomes at Ridgemont High: Rediscovering Heroic Fantasy

Pardon the terrible pun of a title, but if you'll recall a few weeks ago I mentioned that my reading list in 2011 was shaping up to be (in more ways than one) the year of the great tome of books. Well, it's still true, though I haven't exactly kept pace. In February I read four books, all of them quite thin-spined but no less great because of it. The Fixed Stars by Brian Conn and Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord are two masterpieces of fiction. Anyway, it seems as though this year, along with tomes, is also going to be the year I rediscover heroic fantasy.

Last night I attended the book signing of Patrick Rothfuss, heir apparent to the Tolkein throne. Or so many of his fans and Onion A.V. Club think him. Well, he's supposed to be really good and over the rest of March and April I will find out. Seeing Rothfuss speak at the Oak Brook Borders was certainly a treat. He read the very short prologue to his latest release, Wise Man's Fear, as well as a poem about spring he'd written and a hilariously sadistic story about guinea pigs that was published in a weekly advice column he did for his college newspaper. The Q&A section of the night was the most interesting for me, however. Several questions concerning the language of the different peoples in his books were brought up. Though Rothfuss confessed he was not a linguist as Tolkein was, there were certain facets of the languages he'd made up, mentioning that he'd spoken pronunciations of certain words into a phone for the audiobook reader to have some grounding. But Rothfuss was more interested in the psychology and sociology of peoples rather than specific patterns of language - in other words, he cares more about how a person or a people react to given situations. In other other words, I am very excited to read his books.

George R.R. Martin, an instructor of mine at Clarion, announced on his website last week that his fifth book, A Dance With Dragons, now has a release date: July 12, 2012. For thos of us that've been waiting for five years, this is awesome news. I cut my teeth on GRRM in high school and throughout the aughts. I've read A Song of Ice and Fire - the series of which ADWD is part of - probably four times now, and each time I see something new within the text. These are big books and George has promised to his latest will be just as big, so...oh boy.

Daniel Abraham is beginning a new series in April called The Dagger & the Coin. I am a huge fan of his previous fantasy outing, The Long Price Quartet, and am looking forward to the new series. However, I read the prologue of the first book, The Dragon's Path, and wasn't as impressed. Though I've heard a lot of people turned away from GRRM's books because of the prologue of his first. Sometimes prologues are slogs and maybe we should all just agree that Elmore Leonard, in his 10 rules of writing, is right: Avoid prologues.

N.K. Jemisin is also in my queue to read. She's two books deep into The Inheritance Trilogy and managed to put out both of those books within the same year. I don't know that that was a particularly well-employed marketing campaign by her publisher, but whatever: two books! I have the first one and the second one is waiting on the shelf at Borders just for me. I've heard all kinds of excellent things about Jemisin and her work, so I'm excited to read these books. These aren't tomes, however: around 330 pages with crime novel-sized print. (That's not a jab at crime novels, I swear. I love Elmore Leonard. Also, second Leonard reference? Check.) I've had Jemisin's first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, for awhile now and there really isn't a reason I haven't read it yet.

Except this:

I've called this post "Rediscovering Heroic Fantasy" for a reason. The last heroic fantasy book I read was in 2006 and it was A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin. Yep, the book prior to the July 12 release. It's not that I haven't tried. I really really really tried to like Steve Erickson's Mazalan Empire, but ugh, no thanks. I loved the aforementioned Long Price Quartet, though I don't count them as heroic fantasy; if anything Abraham's series is tragic fantasy. Anything published by Pyr Books I tend to stay away from. Joe Abercrombie has enticed me before - but especially since he was mentioned in the recent diatribe of the doom of fantasy from Leo Grin (note: a lot of fantasy writers responded to Grin's scathing essay and I'm definitely in their camp: I like my heroes tragically flawed, thank you very much.) Another is R. Scott Bakker: I read the first two books in his Prince of Nothing trilogy, but sort of lost enthusiasm to read the third. I liked them, but I didn't love them - or maybe it wasn't the right time for me to read them.

That said, I'd definitely like to give Abercrombie and Bakker a shot. Perhaps later this year I will. Right now, however, I've got so much on my plate. The books mentioned above, and Shantaram awaits me, as well as the Javier Marias series, the new Jesse Bullington and Genevieve Valentine, Gene Wolfe, dear lord, it won't stop.

Are they any other heroic fantasy books I should have read/be reading?


  1. Duder, just a question here. How can Daniel Abraham be tragic and GRRM be heroic? Nothing good has happened to a character anyone likes in ASOIAF since Game of Thrones. :)

    Well wait, Piggy did get some action. I take that back.

  2. Do not question genre terms made up by the SPIRAL.

  3. I reserve the right to question things created by the zine portion of the operation, however.

  4. The distinction I was making wasn't that tragic things can't happen in heroic fantasy - in fact, they quite often do; no, the distinction I was making between tragic and heroic fantasy was that heroic tends to have a more "robust-ness" to its prose, and definitely more action, plotwise. This is true with GRRM's works; whereas Abraham's prose is subtler (and, some would argue, as they have on facebook, repetitive, hehe) and action is less "hand-to-hand" and more "thought-to-thought."

    GRRM, however, is kind of bad example as he is capable of being both heroic and tragic at the same time. Perhaps we should be discussing Robert Jordan or Brandon Sanderson or, gulp, Steven Erickson.