Aged in Oaken Heroes: Heroic Fantasy & Imagined History

What is the proper setting for heroic fantasy? Sometimes it seems that the Heroic Age is like the Golden Age of Science Fiction: twelve (according to the now-elderly wisecrack).

Anyway, it is widely agreed that heroic fantasy is set in some age before we learned that “digital watches were a pretty neat idea”, a period frequently described as the Middle Ages.

And this is almost perfectly dumb.

Jump into the dumb!

Removable Blast from the Past

In my recent move, I offloaded a bunch of my books to my office. Now I’m unboxing them and clearing off shelves and cleaning up the office.

The following constitutes progress:

Shocking fuzzy images that will shock you fuzzy!


Here’s my schedule for ChiCon 7:

Panel: “Violence in Fantasy”

tagline: “The use and misuse of violence in SF and fantasy. How much is too much?”

Panellists: D.H. Aire Doug Hulick James Enge, Scott Lynch (moderator)

Fri. Aug. 31, 10:30 AM-12:00 PM

Wright room (silver level, west tower of the Hyatt Regency)


Reading: James Enge

(I’ll probably be reading some fantasy with violence in it, although I haven’t settled on a text yet.)

Sun. Sept. 2, 2:30-3:00 PM

DuSable room (silver level, west tower of the Hyatt Regency)

Here’s a PDF map of the Hyatt Regency Chicago, if it’s not one of those hotels you know like the back of your hand.

I keep on misreading ChiCon as “Cowtown”, even when I type it, so here’s a song to celebrate the con.


Rene Sears interviewed me for today’s edition of the Pyr newsletter, Pyr-A-Zine, in which I sound off on political systems in fantasy, history (true or feigned), what is and is not a trilogy, and the proper way to eat a sandwich through your nose. (Well, everything except that last part.)

Which, Whicher, Whichest? (Keep It or Chuck It #2)

Summerscale, K. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

Nowadays the hideous murder of a child needs something special to get noticed–it has to occur at a midnight showing of a Batman™ movie, or involve Cheez Whiz™, or something™. Then it can grab our attention. Otherwise it’s just one of those awful but expectable things that happens sometimes, like a politician lying.

The world wasn’t actually more innocent in the 19th century–but it sometimes pretended it was (and that’s the essence of Victorianism, I guess). In 1860 a young boy was taken from his family’s English country house and brutally murdered, not necessarily in that order. The physical evidence immediately showed that someone inside the household must have killed the boy–that the murderer was possibly a member of his own family. The country was shocked… and fascinated.

Follow the clew!

And Now… This!

Courtesy of Pyr-O-Mania, here’s the full-cover spread for A Guile of Dragons.

Turn Up This Clickéd Way!

Night Thoughts About Aurora

Goya: “The Sleep of Reason Breeds Monsters.”

Grim news from Colorado today: a dozen people killed and dozens more wounded by the proverbial lone gunman at a premiere of The Dark Knight Rises

David Sirota suggests that the crime be declared as “terrorism”. His point is that right-wing bozos who shoot people are classified as loonies, whereas others (especially if they’re non-white or Muslim) are terrorists.

Maybe so, but it seems premature to claim that’s what was going on in Aurora.

The alleged gunman was “in the process of withdrawing from the [University of Colorado]‘s graduate program in neurosciences”. I wonder (with no more information than that) if he had been studying neuroscience to better understand himself, and withdrew from the program because he had given up on that. Unprovoked and brutal acts of violence like these seem like prima facie evidence of mental illness.

I almost called them a “random acts of violence” but decided against that for two reasons. The first is merely stylistic: avoid clichés, right?

But the second is that it wouldn’t be true.

These acts were not random. This was a carefully planned, well armed, capably conducted attack.

And the occasion probably wasn’t random, either. The suspect was dressed in black when he was caught, and he committed his murders at the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. Doesn’t it seem likely that the occasion itself attracted him? That he saw himself as a kind of dark knight, or at least as a super-villain?

Who knows? Maybe his Plan A was to attack a big-screen viewing of My Little Pony, but he settled for Batman instead.

Still: I’m haunted by the thought that his dark violent actions were attracted and focused by the dark violent fantasy of the film.

Remember last week, when reviewers were getting death threats simply for not giving the movie a glowing review?

I’m not blaming the movie (which I haven’t seen, and which I intend to see). And I’m not advocating censorship. In a much smaller way, I’m in the business of creating dark and violent fantasies.

But I’m troubled at the monsters we may be breeding as our reason sleeps.

We’ve seen the darkness at Aurora. Maybe it’s time to turn on some light.

So “That” Happened

Probably futile to fight against a sticky idea simply on the basis of its falsehood, but here goes.

President Obama said something last week about success which was not only true, but obviously true. Then some people pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, invented the internet and started blogging about it, and today the truth has become a falsehood used as an attack line. That’s politics, I guess, but the business seems important for a couple of reasons.

Here’s the quote in context, from a campaign stop in Virginia. The quote comes from about 53 minutes into the event; I’ll try to paste a shorter clip into the message below. But here are the ipsissima verba.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, “You know what, there are some things we do better together.”

There are two reasons why this matters to me–one trivial, one essential.

One is that I have a bad habit of using pronouns with unclear antecedents. This is a cautionary tale about that. Obama is clearly talking about the infrastructure created by the community, but the “that” allows people to pretend otherwise, as long as they shear away the context.

More importantly, if what Obama says here were not true, human civilization would be impossible. He is simply describing things as they are. If that is, in fact, in dispute (like evolution, global warming, and a range of other realities that partisan hysteria has managed to make controversial), then we’re all in trouble.

And conservatives need to worry as much or more than liberals. No matter how convenient it may seem as an electoral tactic, an ideology in conflict with the very idea of community can’t be used as a basis for governing a community.

“Enos Marmor Iuvato!”

Movies don’t generally do space adventure well. The best sf movies involving space travel are mostly science fantasy (e.g. the Star Wars franchise). Which I also like, but which is different.

So I was excited to hear about Mars, an independent film mixing rotoscoped live action mixed with animated footage. Waking Life… in SPA-A-A-A-ACE? Had to see it.

Now I’ve seen it and I have to admit I’m a little let down. How can a movie be so dull when it features Kinky Friedman playing the President of the United States?

Lackluster acting is part of the problem. The dead-voiced, unconvincing performances of Howe Gelb (as NASA somethingorother Shep McWhatsisname) and Paul Gordon (as billionaire astronaut buzzkill Hank Morrison) brought the temperature down to lukewarm whenever they were onscreen.

But the finest actors in the world couldn’t have saved the script, which is an incoherent jumble that doesn’t quite tell any of the various stories it touches on.

There are some good bits, here, though: some comicbooky animations of space-travel via ion-cannon; the idea of terrestrial life infecting the Martian landscape; artificial intelligence kindling in landrovers; love and last chances in an alien landscape and in a half-empty mission-control room; a daring extravehicular repair mission in deep space.

Good intentions and good details don’t quite make the movie work, but it wasn’t a complete waste of time. There were nice performances by Cynthia Watrous and Michael Dolan running the earthside operations for a robotic Mars rover, and the lead actors (Zoe Dean and Mark Duplass) did well with a romance that was predictable but understated.

Not a must-see, but maybe worth seeing once. With a better script, a low-budget/low-fi movie like this could really be great.

MARS – The Movie [HD Trailer] from Geoff Marslett on Vimeo.

Keep It or Chuck It?

I moved at the beginning of May this year, for the first time in ten years, and the event reminded me of something I had been vaguely conscious of for a long while: I own too many books.

At one time I would have denied this was possible. But that was before I had to lift all those damn boxes.

It was also before the e-reader revolution got well underway. Nowadays I have to ask myself: Do I really need a copy of Hardy’s Jude the Obscure? In the unlikely event I want to read the book again, I can download a version from The Gutenberg Project or Google Books and read it on a handheld device.

So I’m going to chuck my hardcopy of Jude the Obscure.

A tougher choice was my copy of Neider’s edition of Twain’s Autobiography. But a definitive edition of the autobiography is coming out from University of California Press; I already own volume 1; the text is being released online; and Neider messed with the autobiography to construct a narrative form Twain never intended. Neider’s Twain gets chucked.

But I’m keeping both my copies of The Mysterious Stranger. One is the definitive tombstone edition from Library of America. The other was given me by my grandmother, now long dead. Both are unchuckable.

In the middle, between the must-be-chucked and the unchuckable, is a very large range of books, most of them genre paperbacks, where some sort of evaluation has to be made.

Sometimes the evaluation will involve a reread, and I thought I’d post the reviews here, in an attempt to bring the blog back from the near-death state it’s been lingering in of late.

It’ll be sort of like Keith Phipps’ Box of Paperbacks Book Club, except there’s more than one box, and except that I’m not going to review every volume, and also no one is paying me to do this, and I’m not Keith Phipps, and there are some other smaller differences.

First up: Gunner Cade by Cyril Judd (if that is his real name!) in a 1983 reprint edition from Tor.

“He was quiet…mostly kept to himself.”

Continue reading Keep It or Chuck It?