Saturday, January 24, 2009

Reality in Fantasy

This is going to be the first of many posts I would like to write about China Mieville. Currently, I'm reading his Iron Council, another novel of Bas-Lag. I would have read it by now, except I was saving it for when I absolutely needed to read what I knew would be an awesome novel. Besides, Mieville's latest novel won't be available to me for a couple of months yet. I have to ration them.

So, as I was reading the first couple of chapters of Iron Council I realized what it is that makes Mieville's novels so captivating: it's their realness. I know this seems like an oxymoron for fantasy stories to seem real, but if you've read King Rat, Perdido Street Station, or The Scar, then you'll know what I'm talking about. Though they are fantasy, these stories could almost be real, and it's all in how Mieville portrays them. They're not silly or dramatic like Eddings stories, and they're not about some wizards or some impossible skilled fighters. They generally deal with ordinary people (not archtypical heros with chiseled bodies wielding a sword that is impractical in real fighting) living in a world that could easily be real if only there were such a place as New Crobuzon, or real races like the vodyanoi or khepri. Of course, King Rat, takes place in the very real setting of London, and exists in a parallel plane of existence that centers around the subterranean world of rebelling rats who fear the Pied Piper. How are we, mere humans, to know that such a thing is not possible?

All of these stories have the potential to be real in how they're presented. In Mieville's worlds there is no clear division of good and evil. There are people, only people, who do good and bad things consciously or inadvertently. All people have their failings. All people should be approached with caution. Everyone is a potential enemy. And so, it is with caution that I read Mieville's works. Afterall, in Perdido Street Station, we are presented with a character whom we are meant to sympathize with from the beginning. He is a tragic figure, and only at the very end of the novel do we realize what a disgusting scoundrel he is, suddenly changing our perception that this character deserved his misery afterall, and suddenly we are left with the realization that you can't really assume anything about anyone, not even in books. Real people have motives, secrets; real people lie; real people sometimes mislead others; and it is real people that populate Mieville's novels. Even though we are following the main character, I must always ask, can this character be trusted? However, this question cannot be answered until the end of most stories, because Mieville is deceitful in his writing, and one cannot even tell where the story is going most of the time. It could be going in a straight line one moment toward one goal, and suddenly everything gets fucked up and no one can assume where the story is going to end. That's just beautiful. That's good writing.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Fan Fictions--one of the reasons I drink...

So, I'm going to do some mildly mindless venting on this one. Fan-fictions suck ass. I hate them, and I hate the people that write them. These "authors" are usually teenagers who are self-proclaimed writers, thinking they're deep because they use words like "despair," "darkness," "moonlight," "blood," and of course, "melancholy." They're the type of people who like to pretend they're deep by writing bad poetry even though they've never read any poetry. They try to rhyme, even though contemporary poetry usually doesn't rhyme, and the meter is all off because they don't know what the fuck meter is. Not to mention they use cliche rhymes like "lie" and "sky" and "die," and actually it makes me want to do that last one.

These self-righteous assholes then read or watch a popular novel or movie or movie based on a novel, and are thereafter "inspired" to write a travesty based on said novel or movie. Yeah, they're so deep and talented that all they could come up with was some mutilated version of Twilight (redundant--of course!) or some butchered monstrosity based on Harry Potter (how could you??). And since these pissants have only read the one book they have no idea how to write in one point of view, or keep a consistent tense, or write dialogue that doesn't sound kitschy, and so the fan-fic ends up being the sloppy seconds of a somewhat passable idea.

Every once in a while I stumble across another of these awful "creations," and it makes me wonder why I bother. Everyone who can figure out how to work a pen thinks they can write, and so forums all across the internet are infested with these things like some kind of electronic chlamydia. It's disgusting. And it's insulting to real writers and poets. By real, I mean people who are avid readers and know how to form a coherent and original thought, able to create a unique plot and story in an effective and creative manner. These are the people whose work is ruined by fan-fiction. It's disrespectful, but like a natural disaster, it can't be stopped. So I will drink more. That's healthy, right?

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Ice Queen

I have just finished reading David Gemmell's Dark Moon, which was loaned to me by a friend who assured me that I would enjoy it. Normally I don't take these sorts of suggestions from people, since they seem to miss the mark completely when assuming what I would like, and often these suggestions come to me from people who have only read one or two books in their life and are only suggesting a book to me because their 14-year-old daughter is enamored with it (that's right, I'm boycotting Twilight, so shut the hell up already). However, this book was actually tolerable. I am willing to admit, also, that my liking of it may have something to do with having previously read The Elenium. Comparitively, Dark Moon was quite refreshing, as one of the main characters was a woman who kicked ass (but, not quite enough, as I will demonstrate).

As with all my analyses, there is a SPOILER ALERT.

I don't believe that it was David Gemmell's aim to create a feminist character through Karis, since there are some revealing parts of her I would call flawed. She's not excessively feminine, but she began her military career as the whore of a commander, and through her creativity and imagination in battle she eventually became the general of an army.

She is also hyper-sexualized, having so many lovers that she cannot remember them all (93). She doesn't allow herself to fall in love with any of them, using them only to satisfy a physical need. She is almost manly in her sexual exploits, and (thankfully) the male characters do not scorn her for her "appetites," but praise her as they would a man who had many partners.

Her behavior seems to stem from her hatred of her father, a typical formula for masculinized women in many fantasy stories (here I'm thinking of Azhure from Sara Douglass' Wayfarer Redemption series). Karis' father was physically abusive to her and her mother, and she avoided loving anyone because her mother married for love, and she saw what that got her.

She's reckless, and prone to excessive drinking. Toward the end of the novel she becomes sick of fighting, and only by her sacrifice do the seemingly unstoppable Daroth leave the city.

But we never see her fight. She destroys Daroth pursuers by starting an avalanche, an indirect way of killing. She leads men in the final battle as their General, and through her military genius she devises strategies and weapons to fight against the giant immortal parasites known as the Daroth who refuse to coexist. The only way we know of her fighting is through the words and perceptions of men who admire her, such as the father-figure of Necklen talking to Duke Albreck, assuring him that he was wise in his choice of Karis for his General (262).

Even during the final battle she does not take part in the fighting. I get the reasons: the Daroth are telepaths and she doesn't want them finding out what she's planned so she and the weapons master stay away from the fighting, but it's still a little disappointing. The only evidence that she's a great warrior is filtered through the mouths of men in narrated flashbacks, as when Necklen tells Karis's previous lover, Giriak, how she became a warrior because she was once a whore to a commander. She had more imagination than he did, and proved to be a better commander (200).

Her nicknames include "The Whore of War" (320) and "The Ice Queen" (347). Supposedly this last is supposed to be better than the first; but do I really need to point out what is wrong with these "endearing" titles?

Overall, the novel itself was entertaining and while I do not believe it was David Gemmell's aim to create a feminist character, he did include a strong female character who got to boss around the men, but even in her strength she was lacking. I can see how one may argue that she's feminist, but I do have to disagree since the reader never actually witnesses this strenth directly...what we do see firsthand are her faults: her excessive drinking and use of men (which isn't really a fault except for her emotional detachment due to having a dysfuntional father).

Works Cited:
Gemmell, David. Dark Moon. New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.