domingo, agosto 13, 2017

Progressive Rock SF: "Devices and Desires" by K. J. Parker



When Tom Holt uses his K. J. Parker heteronym, at his best, is a very good genre writer: which is not to say that genre writers can't be as good as (if not better than) their literary counterparts - but they have not been taken as seriously, which is true even now. I must admit I found Gene Wolfe's work to be good too, rather than something to be proselytised for, or raved about. Moorcock's essay "Epic Pooh" is a good analysis in some respects (though perhaps influenced by Terry Eagleton et al, and Marxist Lit-Crit in general) and admits the fact the LOTR writing is at least accomplished. Of Moorcock's work "The Dancers at the End of Time" series is both funny and readable and "The Condition of Muzak" to me seems still his best. Folk finding Peake to be overwritten just proves what sort of literary world we now inhabit: Orwell's plain English has come back to bite us on our collective arse, and we can no longer cope with sentences with sub clauses, or paragraphs full of metaphor via elision. Oh, well. It's just that when folk write stuff like "The Book of the New Sun" is the best fantasy ever written, I must assume that they haven't read much to compare it to, genre fantasy or otherwise.  No doubt all shall be well in the ground of our beseeching, if that's the phrase I'm stretching for. 

Much modern fantasy suffers from a need to be perceived as dark, and combined with a desire to out-epic the competition it's led to something of a sameness in the huge-number-of-mutilated-dead count, tougher-than-the-last-tough-guy hyperinflation, and characters flawed by their amorality or brutality (Staveley comes to mind). Parker maintains a personal scale, even though world-changing events (though his worlds always have a sparseness to them - rarely any heaving multitudes), and his characters are flawed by their vulnerabilities. There's darkness aplenty - I find more horror in his themes of erasure or corruption of identity than in how many hundreds of thousands of anonymous bodies line roads to cities (Baker, Staveley, Ryan, Cameron, etc.). This approach pays dividends in his mastery of character development. His books follow anything but an expected path - unexpected events shape characters in entirely unforeseen ways, and while that can lead to great emotional investment on the part of the reader, Parker can be bruisingly unsentimental. That’s why I say fantasy is the progressive rock of literature. It has its ardent fans who champion its cause in the face of utter derision from critics. It has its fair share of pretentious tosh but there are nuggets of excellence to be found if you look hard enough with an open enough mind, a bit like its sister, science fiction. Another factor in fantasy's 'rehabilitation' that might be worth exploring is the prevalence of fantasy in computer and video games. Why does that work so much better than, say political fiction? Anyway, from someone who has read SF (science Fiction and Fantasy) for over 30 years, I’m still surprised we can still find writers writing non-magic fantasy. I like prog rock too, naturally, but that's another story... Parker is a peerless creator of genuinely unearthly mindscapes.

The other great thing about K. J. Parker is that even with his fantasy potboilers he still entertains me with his florid use of language, the weird and wonderful names, and the little details he drops into his stories, products of his wild imagination that elevate even the most mundane tales.



SF = Speculative Fiction.

2 comentários:

Book Stooge disse...

"It's just that when folk write stuff like "The Book of the New Sun" is the best fantasy ever written, I must assume that they haven't read much to compare it to"

Or they're just plain stupid. I'm totally biased of course, as I hated every Wolfe book I've read [all 3 of them!] but still, "stupid". With that impeccable argument I figure I've descended to their level and we can both fling pooh like monkeys without a care in the world.


"Much modern fantasy suffers from a need to be perceived as dark, and combined with a desire to out-epic the competition it's led to something of a sameness in the huge-number-of-mutilated-dead count, tougher-than-the-last-tough-guy hyperinflation, and characters flawed by their amorality or brutality"

And I just don't understand the people who want this kind of writing. Grimdark holds negative appeal for me. I want dark an gritty, I can watch the news for goodness sake. This world is bad enough. I want some hope, some encouragement, something to strive for. I have to wonder what kind of perverse pleasure grimdark readers get? Or are their lives so good that they want to wallow around in the filth to get a difference experience?

Manuel Antão disse...

'Grimdark' is a fun term to bandy around, but an artificial one that doesn't reflect what's actually going on in the fantasy genre, which is far more fluid and wide-ranging than what one might expect. I think a big problem with the discussion is that lines between 'grimdark' and 'regular fantasy' are not very clearly delineated in many cases. 'Grimdark' is not a separate part of modern fantasy, but may be more of a tool or even a tone. It also doesn't help that we don't have a rigorous definition for what 'grimdark' actually is.

What I like about "grimdark" (for lack of a better word) is that it ISN'T black and white. The protagonists aren't clearly in the right, they're not perfect...their actions are a result of who they are and what their experiences have made them. The worlds feel much more "real" to me than Tolkien's ever did.

Antiheroes are fine in concept but can easily be appropriated into banality or propaganda. It's about the point where the story goes from showing a compromised and flawed hero to justifying the hero's unheroic actions as being praiseworthy, or the dread spectre of "I was just following orders" crops up as a justification for complete exoneration of crimes (something a lot of genre fiction does love - use mind-control or magical deception or super-technology to let the protagonist do horrible things but it's all OK because he wasn't himself at the time).

Parker and Abercrombie are in a different league altogether; they don't really belong to that literary vein. On top of that, I don't read 'grimdark' per se; I read good SF (sometimes...).