Friday, April 15, 2011

30 Days of Genre, Days Two and Three

I am apparently behind, so I will catch up with a double dose today!

Day Two: "Your Favorite Character"

Characters are particularly important to me, and because of this, there are a lot of them that I love. The Spike, from Delany's Triton, and Mouse from his book Nova both had a big impact on me in high school. Severian and Thecla from Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun series were characters who surprised me but kept me engrossed in the world they moved through. I have a soft spot for Samwise Gamgee, for sure, and I think he and Eowyn are the best characters in Tolkein's saga. Jirel of Joiry and the Dowager Royina Ista from Bujold's Paladin of Souls were two incredibly strong characters that taught me about persistence. The scoundrel Aiken Drum from Julian May's Saga of Pliocene Exile was a character whom I could never pin down, whom I both admired and reviled. Most recently, I fell for Eliss, the young woman struggling to make a life for herself in Kage Baker's fine novel The Bird of the River.

But the one I return to again and again is Haviland Tuf, from George R. R. Martin's Tuf Voyaging. Watching his transformation from merchant into semi-divine power, and the moral quandries of his actions, is always both a delight and a sobering thing. His quirkiness slowly gives way to something weightier, and he turns out to be a very provocative, deep character. Martin does a great job making us sympathetic towards Tuf, while also realizing the burden that his accidentally-acquired power puts on him.

Day Three: A Genre Novel That is Underrated:

I'm struggling with this one. I think a lot of novels are underrated, because the criteria used to evaluate some of them are often not how well-written they are, or what concerns underlie the story, or other considerations of the novel as a novel. I find that when I recommend books to patrons or friends they often come up with reasons to not take the recommendation based on other criterion, like the Jim Butcher fan who thought that the Stainless Steel Rat would be "too sciency" or the Marion Zimmer Bradley admirer who thought the Kushiel books would not be "mythic" enough. Or, conversely, the Dom DeLillo reader who wanted something a little lighter and scoffed at Chabon and Lethem for their geekishness. we all approach stories with different idea and expectations in our heads.

So here are four works to consider. The first is P.C. Hodgell's God Stalk, a fantasy novel from the early 1980s that is fun, well-written, and has some bite to it. Next is R. A. MacAvoy's Tea with the Black Dragon, which is lovely in every respect, gently magical and very character-driven. C. J. Cherryh's Faded Sun Trilogy is a set of novels that combine powerful themes, from belonging to genocide, with excellent writing. Finally, Michael Moorcock's Oswald Bastable books (starting with The Warlord of the Air) are both crackling good stories and riffs on some classical romantic motifs by skewering imperial dystopias, the notion of progress, and even the heroic memory.

It is easy to forget how many great stories are in fantastika's past, and I think that we need to appreciate more of these books to more fully enjoy the genre.

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