Archives: Steven Brust

Styles

I’ve nearly completed re-reading “The Worm Ouroboros,” E.R. Eddison’s underappreciated masterpiece. It is a mine worth delving into again, its depths not fully plumbed, its treasures still unmeasured. If I haven’t made myself clear, I love it. The villains are Shakespearean, complex and fascinating. The heros are Homeric, grandly larger than life, embodiments of virility and arete. The language is gorgeous, archaically poetic.

An aside: I know Tolkien read and appreciated “The Worm Ouroboros” despite Eddison’s philosophy, as espoused in the book, being antithetical to Tolkien’s. But I wonder how deeply “The Lord of the Rings” was inspired by “Worm,” if at all. I mention it, because while reading a description in “Worm” of a mustering of troops I was reminded of the scene in “The Fellowship of the Ring” when Pippen is watching the arrival of soldiers before the siege of Gondor, the description of the men, the naming and characterization of the leaders, their homes, etc. A side by side comparison would be interesting, I think.

I’m also in the last third of Steven Brust’s most recent Vlad Taltos novel, “Hawk.” “Hawk” is about as stylistically far away as it is possible to be from “Worm.” It is written in first-person smart ass. It is terse, sarcastic. Descriptions are sparse. The language is colloquial, contemporary. If I haven’t made myself clear (and I probably haven’t) I love it.

There are many who cannot appreciate “Worm.” The prose is too dense, too purple. The speech is stilted, unnatural. And he who requires a novel to reaffirm his socio-political convictions will not make it through the first fifty pages.

There are many who cannot appreciate the Vlad Taltos books. The prose does not conform to some readers’ notions of what period fantasy should be. It is unabashedly contemporary. He who requires immersion in faux-historical language will not make it through the first page (though this particular reader might enjoy the “Phoenix Guard” novels.)

Me, I love the gamut. I look for a good story, and I don’t care if it is vintage or modern. So I’ve got that going for me.

Connubial Characters

I’ve been thinking about weddings and marriage recently. And, since I’m me, about fiction. Specifically speculative fiction, i.e., fantasy and science fiction.

Now dramatic narrative, even in speculative fiction, often leads to a wedding between characters. But it seems that characters — main characters, at least — seldom begin a story in a state of matrimony. Singles dominate the rosters of main characters. Why is that?

Rainy-day Reading

The grey days are here again. The storms roll inland from the Pacific in succession, bringing the seemingly continuous rain. The temperatures drop and coats come out of the closet. The days grow shorter. The nagging bugs commence. My daughter has already picked up a cold from somewhere and has graciously shared it with my wife. I imagine I’ll get to join the fun soon enough.

Goodbye summer. Hello long hours indoors. Those with the time curl up under a warm blanket and read. For the purpose of this web log post I’ll pretend I’m one of those fortunate folks with time on their hands, and not someone with a full-time job, a wife and infant deserving attention, novels to write, and a home to keep clean and maintained. I’m going to pretend I can do more than snatch a few minutes here and there to read.

Glen Cook's Fantasy Fiction: The Instrumentalities of the Night

I’ve written before about Glen Cook’s fantasy fiction. But with a writer as prolific as Mr. Cook there is always more to say. I’ve not been shy of pointing out that I’m a fan. His – and Steven Brust’s and Roger Zelazny’s – employment of the first-person smart ass school of fiction was influential in the writing of “Reunion.”

I’m currently reading book four of his series “The Instrumentalities of the Night.” It is classic Glen Cook: fast paced, spare in descriptive detail, full of snappy banter between and among characters (often including extensive stretches without identifying the speaker, which can get confusing if you’re reading at speed and not closely tracking the interchange.)

Musketeers

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109798/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

I caught a French flick called “Revenge of the Musketeers” the other night. I watch a lot of Netflix late at night while feeding my little bobblehead of a daughter. Some viewing choices are better than others. This one was pretty good. It got me to thinking about Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers” and how that tale has enriched the entertainment I enjoy.

“Revenge of the Musketeers” (or “La fille de d’Artagnan”) is a 1994 movie starring Sophie Marceau. Marceau, I believe, was once a Bond girl in one the Brosnan era James Bond outings.  If you don’t mind reading subtitles, I recommend checking out “Revenge of the Musketeers.” It is nicely photographed and well-acted, reminiscent (deliberately so, I assume) of the terrific Richard Lester “Musketeer” films. It employs similar styles of humor and the scenes, acting, and fight choreography are evocative of the earlier films. My guess is that the actors quite consciously played their roles as older versions of Michael York, Richard Chamberlain, Oliver Reed, and Frank Finlay. In fact, in one scene, Ms. Marceau (playing d’Artagnan’s daughter Eloise) wears a dress that appeared to me identical to one worn by Raquel Welch as Constance.

The “Malazan” Novels: An Appreciation

The “Malazan” Novels: An Appreciation

Steven Erikson and Ian Esselmont managed a rare feat: they transformed their role-playing game campaign into a series of interesting and readable novels.  It’s a trick worthy of remark.  Some of the novels Steven Brust and of China Mieville show evidence of a similar exploit of literary legerdemain.  But given that most role-playing games are, by nature, a distillation of existing tropes, a deliberate homogenization, it is truly impressive to see something unique emerge, a story that doesn’t appear to be the equivalent of a fourth or fifth generation photocopy.

The seams do on occasion show through in Erikson and Esselmont’s books.  While they’ve rebranded the demi-human races as laid down by the Ur-RPG, Dungeons & Dragons, an observant reader can get glimpses of the original product beneath.  “Edur” instead of “Eldar” (or elf.)  “Trell” instead of “Troll” (or some form of ogre/half-ogre.)  The clues are there, though in fairness they’ve rendered such archeology a pointless exercise; their creations are essentially sui generis.

The magical systems are fresh, showing no evidence of derivation from the Vancian system employed by D&D.  But at least one character wears his class openly on his sleeve.  Karsa is quite clearly Erikson’s effort to explore the Barbarian class as well as taking Robert E. Howard’s ruminations on barbarism versus civilization out for an extended exploration.

The books provide plenty of evidence to refute those who still claim that fantasy is “merely”* escapist fiction, with no greater merit.  The books explore philosophy, archaeology, historiography, religion, politics, war, psychology.  In fact the very depth, and the fact that the two writers show no hesitation to throw the reader deep into the woods without map or compass, dissuades some readers from tackling the pile of doorstops that comprise the still-ongoing series.

Well, I’m not dissuaded.  I may not agree with the Erikson or Esselmont on certain points of politics or the ideal aesthetic of the female figure, but I’m sold on these novels and I’m in for the long haul.  In fact, after writing this, I need to return to “Blood & Bones.”

Happy reading.

*See J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous remarks on escapism.

Steven Brust – An Appreciation

Steven Brust – An Appreciation

Steven Brust is one of the three masters of the first person smart-ass style. One of the other two, Glen Cook, was a prior subject of a Web Log appreciation. The third is the late, and lamented, Roger Zelazny.

Brust has written a substantial body of work, but is primarily known for his Dragaera novels. These primarily concern the exploits of Vlad Taltos, a human living amid an elaborately imagined civilization of elf analogues – the Dragaera, tall, immensely long-lived creatures. Other novels deal with certain of the Dragaera themselves. In these novels Brust – rather brilliantly – indulges himself by emulating Alexander Dumas’ “Three Musketeers” literary style, complete with flamboyant oaths and and humorously labyrinthine conversations.

Vlad Taltos is his crowing achievement. An assassin, an organized crime sub-boss, a witch, and a narrator delivering his own story with droll wit. Occasionally Brust explores different styles, employing other points of view to deliver Vlad’s tale. These books – for example “Athyra” – tend to suffer in comparison, lacking some of the spark of Vlad’s tongue-in-cheek delivery.

Another criticism: Brust is unabashed about sharing his political opinions. On occasion – notably “Teckla” – these views can be so intrusive as to dominate the narrative. If one – myself for example – is disinclined to be charitable to a Trotskyite viewpoint, then such heavy-handedness can diminish enjoyment of the book. Thankfully the politics are usually camouflaged well enough not to disrupt the reading experience – there if you looking for it, nigh invisible if you are not, or if you make an effort to ignore it.

With Vlad Taltos, Brust has created a seminal character in fantastic literature. Vlad is worthy of entry to the pantheon of such great scoff-laws as the Gray Mouser, Elric, and Conan, glorious rogues all.

Sadly the publisher, Tor, is no longer releasing the books in mass market paperback. This necessitates that I purchase each new volume in trade paperback. The full chronicle, when finally complete, will doubtless be an aesthetic triumph as a literary work, but it won’t fill a seamless, symmetrically pleasing stretch on my shelf.

It is possible that I demand too much.