I Am Neither GrimDark Nor PollyAnna

While reading the ever-amusing Ace of Spades Book Thread http://ace.mu.nu/archives/352551.php, I followed a link to this article, where it seems that some have had their fill of Sci-Fi Dystopias. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathryn-cramer/speculative-fiction-book_b_5916266.html

This does not surprise me, as I suspect Dystopias grew popular in science fiction for the same reason that GrimDark rose to rule Fantasy. (A fact the author of the above article misses completely.) That is, that anti-heroes have grown from a once legitimate literary device to complement the hero/villain structure, to turn all of writing into a gray ammoral world where the only difference between protagonist and antagonist is who the primary point of view indicates we should root for. A fact Sarah A Hoyt commented on in her Human Wave manifesto (indicating this is no new concern):

5 – You shall not commit grey goo. Grey goo, in which characters of indeterminate moral status move in a landscape of indeterminate importance towards goals that will leave no one better or worse off is not entertaining. (Unless it is to see how the book bounces off the far wall, and that has limited entertainment. Also, I’m not flinging my kindle.)

I am pleased to see those who hailed the arrival of these ‘ambivalent heroes’ now finally come to the ground we have held for most of a decade. I find it amusing that of all people to blame for no longer envisioning big futures, ASU’s president picked Neal Stephenson. Whose Anathem was probably his biggest and most optimistic future, set well after the more dystopic cyberpunks that made him famous. And even his retro-futures, Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle provide optimistic glimpses of science, finance, and the progress of society. There are MUCH better targets to aim this charge at than Neal Stephenson. Also, at this point, I remind you of my posts on dystopic Sci-Fi’s mystic cousin, Grimdark fantasy here: https://tariencole.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/how-grim-is-too-much/, and here: https://tariencole.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/i-am-over-grimdark/. Blatant pessimism, moral ambiguity for ambiguity’s sake, and no attempt to even FIGHT for a better world does not make for an entertaining story. Not fantasy, not sci-fi. And the prevalence of this nonsense is a large part of the reason for Mysteries being the big genre fiction for profit today. At least in those, there is closure, resolution, and a knowledge that justice has been done.

I don’t like them, by and large. As they are too formulaic, and the contrivances of the genre do nothing for me. However, their elevation at a time that Speculative Fiction is screaming ‘Diversity” and “realistic characters,” and hemorrhaging readership all the while, probably hints at a problem in the mindset. A problem that runs through the love of Dystopias, antiheroes, and an unwillingness to embrace a true heroic journey. You see, if you’re committed to moral relativity, there can’t be heroes. Everyone is just a different point of view. We can’t accept that some things are legitimately beyond the pale. A mystery gets around this by having a protagonist who is only judging the ‘facts.’ But what speculative fiction writers have to realize is that sympathetic aspects to a culture, or a villain, don’t make them heroic, as such. Just like flaws in the hero don’t make for anti-heroes, as such. A hero seeks to overcome their vices via their best qualities (and often they have the vices of their virtues). A villain makes a virtue of his vices. A hero admits there is darkness and accepts a measure of (gasp) hypocrisy in any moral creature is unavoidable. A villain spreads his arms like Don John and says, “At least I am plain dealing!”

Yeah, that doesn’t commend him much. This isn’t to say villains can’t be redeemed (over time), or that heroes won’t fall. This isn’t to say people can’t die trying to change the world, and the villains maybe even win. It means that we accept that morality exists outside of who wins or loses. And that the true hero may calculate the odds, but that doesn’t mean they refuse to do the right thing because of them. Or for comparison, let me leave with this:

A hero: The Iron Code of Druss the Legend: Never violate a woman, nor harm a child. Do not lie, cheat or steal. These things are for lesser men. Protect the weak against the evil strong. And never allow thoughts of gain to lead you into the pursuit of evil.

An Antihero: Jayne Cobb from Firefly: “Like my Daddy used to say, ‘If you can’t do the smart thing. Do the right thing.”

A Villain: “Kneel Before Zod!”

Two Book Endorsements

Not Book reviews mind you. I don’t have the inclination to go through them both in detail and potentially spoil them for the reader.  But I’ll give them wholehearted thumbs up. (Or at least 99%.)

I recently finished reading Fated. The first book in the Alex Varus series by Benedict Jacka. Alex is a ‘probability mage.’ Don’t call him a ‘fortune teller.’ That gets him cranky, apparently. There’s nothing showy in his magic. But when you can see what’s going to happen from every contingent possibility, you don’t need to say Forzare! and make the world tremble.  (Plus he does a Dresden Shout-out, so I have to give it props for sheer audacity.) It has good humor, a great narrator as a primary character. Troubled, with having walked both the light and dark paths (further on the dark side than Harry ‘actually’ has, in fact). But committed to doing what’s right now, when no one else seems to be. Excellent world-building, a great magic system, a crackling narrator, and can there be a better city to write Urban Fantasy in than London? I really need to get the next two books in a hurry. Though Mrs Cole would point at the towers of Babel that constitute my current reading piles and tell me to stop. 😛

I no sooner finished that than turned straight into the 3rd book of Larry Correia’s Grimoire Chronicles: Warbound. If you’ve read the 1st 2 books, I don’t need to say anything more. If you haven’t. Well, do yourself a favor and get them. ALL. NOW. Alternate History meets Dieselpunk meets Superhero Noir (which is how the magic system of the series basically pans out, something X-Men-like, but more believable). Also, this is Larry Correia, so you know there will be guns. LOTS of guns. Many, many firearms of all types. Right uses Might. And Freaking How. There’s wit. There’s romance (gasp!). And there are epic battles by the bucketload. Correia is a master of pacing. And it shows. The editor could’ve done him a few favors in the grammar department. But none of them are disastrous. Some people classify this series as Urban Fantasy. I push back on that by saying that the action is decidedly NOT given to any one city, and the character of any ONE city does not define any character in the story. So it’s not UF. That doesn’t make it less awesome.

Now, as Amazon offloads another truckload at my door, the next book up is from a former conversant on the OLD Bioware Forums boards, back in the days of Neverwinter Nights. The Grim Company, by Luke Skull. I’m looking forward to this read. And I’ll hope he returns the favor when The Iron Conqueror comes calling.

I finished three chapters of the Sword & Sandals this week. And I have most of a fourth in my notes. So it’s time to get cracking on that. 😉





Salvaging August

A host of real-life issues kept kicking me in the head all month long. They call them the dog-days for a reason.

But I finished the first book of my Sword & Sandal series. And I like the story and all three main characters. (There are, of course, a host of additional characters, as befits any Epic Fantasy.) I went straight into the second book, tentatively titled Chosen in War. I’m into the second chapter of it, even though I didn’t have a great week writing.

I also finished reading two books this week, and I can safely say I recommend them both. Of course, one of them, The Tyrant’s Law, by Daniel Abraham, is the third in the Epic Fantasy The Dagger and Coin series. It’s a bit slower than the first two. But it develops the characters well and sets up a promising confrontation for the last two books. The other book was It was the Best of Sentences. It was the Worst of Sentences. It’s a simple, pithy grammar and style guide. I’ll recommend this over the style guide you’ve probably seen in classes and celebrates a half-century of telling people WRONG grammar advice.

I’m going to try to set up a Table of Contents for The Iron Conqueror to set it up for epub this weekend. Then I’ll give it a final once-over before sending it off. I wanted to get this done before now. But formatting is about as far from what I wanted to do with all the other stuff as I could imagine.

For a bad month, it wasn’t unproductive. That has to count for something, right?


What a Crazy Couple of Weeks.

Real Life has been kicking me upside the head repeatedly the last ten days or so. First the Internet dropped on me. Then I get that back, only to start having car problems. When those things happen it’s hard for me to keep up with the ‘marketing’ side of writing, (which I would consider this), as it’s more the ‘chore’ in the process. Necessary, and it has moments I enjoy, like when I have comments on the Gunpowder Fantasy discussion (on which I’ll speak more about when I can reorder my thoughts on the subject).

I did, however, manage to make good progress on the Sword & Sandal novel, almost 15000 words over the last week. And a bunch of notes still to go. I’m building up to the finale of it. And it’s gotten close to ‘writing frenzy’ level a couple of times. So that’s a good thing.

I also did some reading. Finishing 2 Urban Fantasies, the first Alex Varus novel Fated. With which I was very pleasantly surprised. And the most recent Kate Daniels novel Magic Rises. I saw the Tor review on this today, and if you MUST read it look http://www.tor.com/blogs/2013/07/book-review-ilona-andrews-magic-rises. I’m just going to say this: it’s really lame to say, “Well gee, this is a series, and it’s hard to judge the formula this far along” as your review. If you don’t like it, give a specific example why. If you do, say so. Otherwise, Why the frak are you reviewing it?

Oh, and don’t say something is a deus ex machina  that the characters didn’t earn when Kate fought a freaking duel to earn it! Yes, it was an unintended consequence. But the Chekhov’s Gun was there. It went off. BANG.  That’s not an undeserved reward, or ‘not earned by their efforts.’ Really, why write a review if your summation is going to be, “If you like the series, you’ll like this. If you don’t, well, you’re not reading this book anyway.”

Who picks up the SIXTH book of a freaking series and starts there anyway?! http://gamerindebt.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/double-facepalm.jpg

I started Daniel Abraham’s The Tyrant’s Law today, so far I’m pleased. But it’s early. I have to squeeze Warbound by the master of gun-porn-fantasy, Larry Correia, too. But I’ll do that after the latest Dagger and Coin.

Oh, and my own writing. Yeah that too. And getting back on track with this. I think today was a good start. 😉