Re: Win-Win

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Never read Cooper, before my time. Read Leiber, Norton, Howard and Ashton-Smith, C.L. Moore. Later, darker guy-stuff like Donaldson and Glen Cook. Never read the Moorcock fantasies. Haven't read much of anything, I guess.

"To me, the puzzle structure of Dark is a kind of Asperger's fantasy" ...TB

Jeez, wouldn't Metallica been better with harpsichord? Shouldn't Heidegger have written stuff ordinary folk can understand?

Should link to the long piece Tyler Cowen links to on the differences between autistic boys & girls. The boys form social relationships with peers exactly thru the geek-puzzle and game stuff. The girls have more troubles during adolescence. Etc.

It is a genre, it offers the specific comforts and predictability of a genre;it has its merits and challenges and flaws;and it's admirers are not to be pitied or despised.

Really can't stand the guy.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 9:06 PM
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you fantasy dweeboids

Projecting much?


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 9:08 PM
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You dweeboids who are fantasizing about me?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 9:10 PM
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Bob, you know I think you're essentially a troll, but I admire the chutzpah in accusing someone of being dismissive of something he's read and you haven't. Also note that Burke liked the Dark is Rising books.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 9:17 PM
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"...dismissive of something he's read and you haven't."

Did you read him? Dismissive of the books I can handle, morally judgmental of it's fans is what I found offensive. I haven't read any Harlequins, but if he wrote about Harlequin readers as he writes about fantasy readers who had different tastes in their fiction.

"First, I think we can talk about a very large-scale comparative critical history of dramatic conflict in expressive culture, with such obvious touchstones as Hamlet. In preferring the way the Potter stories explore a basically similar narrative structure, I'm aligning myself with a huge infrastructural argument about personhood, subjectivity, modernity, individuality."

"...it requires no messing around with the mystery of people or their feelings."

"Putting the comparison in those terms not only locates me within one of the great cultural arguments of our historical moment, it locates me sociohistorically as a reader of fantasy, in relation to a particular group of literate young middle to upper-middle-class readers who read fantasy at a time when it was culturally marginal and largely invisible to the wider society, whose accumulated tastes and experiences have become a major driver of cultural industry in the last decade. There are all sorts of questions to be asked about that history, some of them fairly pointed or critical." ...TB

Burke is not talking about only aesthetic differences, he is pretty close to claiming the aesthetic difference is a moral distance and superiority.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 9:36 PM
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I think it's pretty reasonable to have opinions based on moral sympathies. I prefer Cooper, but yeah, he's right about the implications of the narrative. I don't feel insulted.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 9:41 PM
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reasons

Susan Cooper fans just have a vast noise machine. He's playing into their hands.


Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 9:46 PM
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6:Well, I am insulted, because I was reading Dostoevsky & Tolstoy in between the Conan stories, and don't think I was generally trying to "escape the mystery of people or their feelings."
For just a little while, maybe. Sometimes I also listened to baseball games.

In any case, genre work is characterized by a tight focus, deliberate & conscious limits. Light romance may not focus on the full range of human experience, but that does not make it morally reprehensible. I do not think I have ever read anything empty of moral content.

SF & Fantasy is partly about building habits of xenophilia, of accepting a dwarf or hobbit or the sex-variable character in "Left Hand of Darkness", and naturalism and identifiable character development can actually obstruct the experience. The "other" has to remain "other" to develop imaginative empathy.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 10:04 PM
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SF & Fantasy is partly about building habits of xenophilia, of accepting a dwarf or hobbit or the sex-variable character in "Left Hand of Darkness"

Apples and oranges alert.

I'd say more that commercial fantasy is mostly about building habits of xenofetishism. LeGuin recognizes this, and has written very explicitly about how her books generally intentionally try to subvert the pro-forma racism of the genre.


Posted by: Lunar Rockette | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 10:27 PM
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xenofetishism

You've totally ruined the Ewoks for everyone. I hope you're happy.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 10:29 PM
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I wish I was a batshit insane Old School(tm) SW fan, so I could rant incoherently about the Ewoks for ten posts.


Posted by: Lunar Rockette | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 10:30 PM
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I've read Harlan Ellison on Star Wars and will take it as read.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 10:32 PM
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EWOK SPELLED BACKWARDS IS PRONOUNCED COW

THAT SUMS UP THE BORINGNESS OF THESE BEASTS


Posted by: OPINIONATED GRANDMA | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 10:34 PM
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Me, I remember the Star Wars Christmas special, which of course wasn't a Christmas special, but Life Day. The franchise tanked about ten seconds in, way before Ewoks.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 10:40 PM
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Burke, why does this need to be another thing that ends in "Studies"? Are there not enough such things?


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 10:45 PM
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I got all the fantasy I can handle right here.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 10:48 PM
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But it's Everything Studies, incorporating all the other things that end thus into one gigantic discipline!


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 10:48 PM
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9:I knew I would get that reaction. LeGuin was just different and better than the rest or her era, huh, except maybe Joanna Russ. Or maybe Wilhelm. But not Tiptree. Hendersen, Bradley, Norton.

LeGuin was good, but not that exceptional in relation to her peers. Sturgeon was exploring sexual themes ten years before LHoD

Xenofetishism is not in Wiki or Yahoo search, but I presume it is not far in meaning from Orientalism.

I don't know what books we might share, so I would ask if "E.T." and "Iron Giant" are examples of this xenofetishism. Because they are fairly typical kid's SF. (Star Beast)


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 11:03 PM
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16 to 18.2


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 11:04 PM
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Sorry, 18.3.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 11:04 PM
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17 - In that case it should just be called "Studies".

"Yeah, I majored in Studies. It's like philosophy but without the abstract concepts."


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 11:37 PM
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Take it up with Burke. It's his idea.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 11:39 PM
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Yeah, but there's no talking to that guy.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08- 6-07 11:50 PM
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As I've said before, I haven't read the Potter books, so I can't comment directly on the comparison. But I think the ideas about what constitutes "world building" in the essay are a little bit reactionary for my tastes. How is the Britain that Susan Cooper writes about in TDiR not a "built" world? The books seem to be set in the early to mid 1960s, i.e. just before they were written, and yet they don't occur in an England with mods and rockers and Georgie Best and Profumo and all that. And the Wales that we experience is even less concerned with anything more redolent of modernity than Land Rovers and the occasional unobtrusive radio. I guess you could argue that this is more "world omission" than world building, but it still fulfils the same function. "If I were like Will, I wouldn't have to worry about the usual adolescent nonsense", or "If I were like Bran, all the slights and jibes I endure from the bullies at school would have some meaning."
TB's points about the closedness of Cooper's narrative ring a little bit more true to me, but the idea that there's somehow more and better subjectivity in Potter seems very iffy. What about Hawkin/the Walker? There's a lot more choice/moral ambiguity there than Burke wants to give credit for, even though, from Merriman Lyon's godlike perspective, his betrayal seems preordained. And that's precisely what everybody says the Potter books lack. So ha!


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 5:28 AM
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As you know, Bob, I too can get cranky about people who are dismissive of fantasy fans, but I don't think that's what Burke's really doing. I think he's really talking about the TDIR books specifically rather than the fantasy genre generally, and I kind of agree with his criticisms. (Which is better, TDIR or HP? I don't like either, for entirely different reasons.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 5:34 AM
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re: 24

The books seem to be set in the early to mid 1960s, i.e. just before they were written, and yet they don't occur in an England with mods and rockers ... the Wales that we experience is even less concerned with anything more redolent of modernity than Land Rovers and the occasional unobtrusive radio.

That's a general problem with fiction, I think. I was struck, quite firmly, when reading Ken Macleod's new novel -- which is set about 15 years in the future -- that it is one of the few novels I've read that captures a sense of what it's like to live now. Fiction always seems dreadfully out of touch with the contemporary world. Years and years behind. Not just in terms of the impact of technologies, but also fashion, music, politics and wider culture.



Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 5:40 AM
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26: that's what I've always liked about William Gibson's books. Nothing captures the present like its effect on the future.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 6:35 AM
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re: 27

Actually, I'm reading Spook Country right now which is slightly similar. Gibson is less interested in being a 'futurist' than Macleod, I think. Makes Gibson a more interesting novelist, probably, but Macleod gives you more of the rush of recognition.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 6:40 AM
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Point to the places on the dolly where the bad mans touched you, Bob.

In any event, I'm not knocking fantasy fans or fans of the Cooper books. Since I'm in both of those groups, that would be pretty weird. I'm just saying that the Cooper books are driven by a fairly mechanistic plot structure with minimal room for the protagonists to make choices.

The Everything Studies thing is something I was talking about earlier on the blog--just trying to say that academics who write about culture should be able to talk about whether a particular work is bad or good AND talk about its historical context, its audiences, its ideological significance, and success as a product. Right now, a lot of folks in the humanities see some of those kinds of discussions as exclusive.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 6:55 AM
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You'd have to be reading quite a lot into Burke's essay to conclude that he was being dismissive of any group of fantasy fans probably by ignoring things he actually said.

I find it interesting that Burke describes Harry Potter's strength as world-building given that (like Star Wars) the world she's built doesn't always make a lot of sense. There's explanations for almost everything (why are the Weasleys poor? why are wizards so ignorant of everything to do with technology?) but it takes a lot of hand waving.

I'm beginning to think the quality that Burke admires in the Harry Potter series is how easily it admits of fan fiction. Which is probably a decent proxy for how well the story invites the reader to imagine herself (or a character very much like her but with startling green eyes!) in the world of the story.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 7:20 AM
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"The Potter books center the action in a character and his growth and maturation. There's a naturalism in the way Harry Potter navigates the situation of the books." ...TB

"What's lastingly good about the books isn't the plot--or really, much of the characterization--it's the images. It's as if the book were constructed in order to connect a series of moments: when Will wakes up and the snow is blowing in; the still snowy day at the forge; the Walker attacked by ravens; the book that Will reads...

It's rather like fan fiction (which is more interesting--and more often badly written--than you imagine)...there are a series of moments strung together by plot, and the moments are important and the plot is incidental. The purpose of the book/story is to set those moments securely in place. " ...Frowner, in comments in w-lfs-n's thread below. I recognized Frowner's description of TDIR's particular pleasures and lacks as pretty typical of the genre.

TB links to a site that complains of the many massive changes made in the adaptation of TDIR to movie. Apparently, they came close to setting the story in LA.

I don't need "Member of the Wedding" or "Separate Peace" with swords & spells. What determines a genre, or this genre as a genre?

To generalize. SF & F will usually have much more descriptive prose than dialogue, relative to other kinds of fiction. Characters and narratives will be archetypical and mythic, tropes will be common.

SF & F are, on large part, about environmental determinism, and the environment, not characters or narrative, is what is important to any particular work. LoTR is not about a quest in the midst of a war. It is about a quest by hobbits in the midst of a War in Middle-Earth.

What Frowner admires about TDiR is what defines the genre as genre. What TB finds as improvement (actual moral progress?) in HP are precisely those things that made HP successful as crossover (read TB's advice at the end) and more than a little weak as genre.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 7:23 AM
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30:O, Christ.

"That in turn brings into focus the very particular audiences who have read this kind of fantasy [TDiR] most avidly, and the desires they bring to those readings. To me, the puzzle structure of Dark is a kind of Asperger's fantasy: it requires no messing around with the mystery of people or their feelings." ...TB


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 7:28 AM
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Et tu, Bob?

Harry Potter?

Petey and me against the world, I guess.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 7:31 AM
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Cooper's imagery and language is undeniably better than Rowling's, absolutely. (I think I said that in the entry.) The Grey King especially, which has an entrancing lyrical minimalism in parts. She's a better writer.

Cala's right that I'm actually thinking fan fiction in terms of world-building. I'm not sure that there's a world-building fantasy that actually works as a world in the more realized sense. Not even Tolkien: Middle-Earth doesn't have any kind of economy that makes sense to me, for example. (Where is Gondor getting the wealth to have so many many under arms all the time? In fact, almost every place we see in Middle-Earth is cut off from every other place in terms of trade and interaction, even before Sauron overtly goes to war. Etcetera.) World-building is more about making the gestures in a literary work that imply all the details that a world must have--language, history, etc.

Actually, I just thought of an exception: Mieville's Perdidio Street Station seems to me set in a world that's fully realized.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 7:36 AM
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Geezus, Bob. TDiR *isn't* interested in the internal feelings or motivations of its characters, really. Do you disagree with that? So I'm arguing that I prefer dramatic narratives that give characters some room for internal conflict, some room for contingency. That's not saying anything bad about fans--the Asperger's thing is a way of describing a story that's mostly about exterior mechanisms. I like those kinds of stories myself in many respects, some of them immensely so. What's your problem here? You're working really hard to take offense. It's not like I'm pissing all over the glorious Worker's Revolution or anything here.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 7:42 AM
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Perhaps to get the fan-fiction-friendly qualities you want, you need the world to be constructed by gestures. The Force was a lot more interesting when it was some sort of mystical power than when you could find a Jedi by doing a ten second blood test.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 7:43 AM
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I'll leave with this, and a bit of a laugh. TB talks about genre fantasy in a socio-historial context. To wildly over-generalize, over the last 40 years, and semmingly accelerating, the fantasy genre has exploded into sub-genres, and the reading audience has a much larger percentage of female readers than 40 years ago. This has changed many of the preferred tropes and techniques.

Heres TB:"There's another important part of the Harry Potter books: they're social. The Wizarding world is a complete social world, a community. In discovering his powers, Harry is not set aside from the social world, but inducted into a new one. His eventual triumph in the climax of the story is a consequence of his own efforts to build community within that social world: without the voluntary, hard-won loyalty of friends and peers, he could not have won."

Here is Wikipedia on Romantic Fantasy:

"In all of three of these common plots, characters may start as solitary wanderers, but they never remain that way for long. One of the key features of romantic fantasy involves the focus on social, and to a lesser extent, political relationships. The characters all find close friends, lovers, and other companions who they either live with or travel with, as well as a larger social circle where they all belong. In addition, many character have significant ties with the larger world. Many of these characters have noble titles, or a sworn duty to their kingdom. The rootless travelers of sword and sorcery novels are rarely found in romantic fantasy.

Even when character leaves an abusive or oppressive environment, in romantic fantasy their goal is not to become free from all social ties. Instead, most characters are looking for a new community or social group where they truly belong. Being part of a supportive social group is considered far superior to being even the most independent and competent loner. Also, finding (or on occasion helping to create) a new social group where the character fits in and is happy is considered much better than attempting to force their previous group to change. In such novels, significant changes of opinion and practice happen gradually and must come from within."
...
An example of the above socialization can be found in the full seven year arc of BtVS, and in the popular series by Laurell K Hamilton.

At the start of the Hamilton series, her loner detective is merely fucking a vampire and a werewolf, as it progresses, she adds more kink and partners until the heroine is a biker-gang mama a the center of a multi-monster orgy. It's a socialization thing..


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 7:45 AM
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(Where is Gondor getting the wealth to have so many many under arms all the time? In fact, almost every place we see in Middle-Earth is cut off from every other place in terms of trade and interaction, even before Sauron overtly goes to war. Etcetera.)

Oh, luxuries like pipeweed get shipped around, don't they? And the armies of Gondor seem fairly small; there's that scene where they're assembling and it's hundreds here, and a thousand there, and that's for a literally apocalyptic threat. Assuming there's an agricultural peasantry to feed them all (which seems like a really very reasonable assumption, even if we don't spend a lot of focus on farmers other than hobbits), I don't see the absurdity, not on the level of HP.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 7:48 AM
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Should link to the long piece Tyler Cowen links to on the differences between autistic boys & girls. The boys form social relationships with peers exactly thru the geek-puzzle and game stuff. The girls have more troubles during adolescence. Etc.
It is a genre, it offers the specific comforts and predictability of a genre;it has its merits and challenges and flaws;and it's admirers are not to be pitied or despised.

Ha. I thought you were referring to Cowen re the comforting genre elements of the piece on autism. And you'd have been right if you had been.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 7:50 AM
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http://andrewrilstone.blogspot.com/2007/08/harry-potter-and-qualified-recantation.html

[on Rowling/Potter prose]


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 7:51 AM
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Middle-earth is really much better constructed than Harry Potter, because you can assume it's running a quasi-feudal system with lots of peasants. Rowling is pretty insistent that the wizards have no idea how Muggles run their world at all (amazed by telephones, cars, motorcycles, stitches, spark plugs) when it's a fairly important part of the story that many wizards are from Muggle families and if there weren't so many 'mudbloods', the wizards would have died out. So half of the wizards have non-magical siblings and parents and they've still never heard of stitches?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 7:53 AM
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Actually, seeing pipeweed outside of the Shire and Bree freaks Aragorn out (in the books): that's what clues him in to the fact that Saruman may have some kind of unwholesome interest in the Shire. The Shire has a kind of idealized yeoman farmer economy, but no one really leaves it or travels into it much: Bree is about as far as hobbits ever go, and about as far as stuff ever comes from.

Rivendell seems self-sufficient: elves probably don't need much economically, I guess, plus they're immortal, so they can cut down one tree a year for a couple of thousand years if they need to make some paper to make a book or two. In any event, it's clearly cutoff from anything around it.

Laketown trades with the elves at the far edge of Mirkwood and eventually with Dale. But there's no evidence that they're connected to anything else, really. Maybe the dwarves way the hell up north.

Rohan and Gondor send messages to each other when they're in trouble but there doesn't seem to be much else going on between them.

Gondor has a bunch of southern neighbors that it mostly seems to have a Rome v. German barbarians thing going on with.

I'm just thinking that Middle-Earth doesn't make sense as a genuine world once you stop to puzzle it out. But as a world-like fiction, it feels absolutely inhabitably real, fully imagined.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 7:56 AM
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SF & F are, on large part, about environmental determinism, and the environment, not characters or narrative, is what is important to any particular work.

Substantially. Good SF/F does this well, in an interesting and useful manner--Kim Stanley Robinson, on the one hand; Lem on the other. And in fact, even SF/F which is "character driven" is mostly about how the setting works on the character. That's what makes some of it so useful to teenagers, and some of it so interesting to radicals.

Mieville is an interesting example; he appears to be character-driven, but he's not. His characters are flat at best, and sort of form a composite character (the golum is a good metaphor for his work, I think). In The Scar, Armada is a composite. In fact, you could say that there's a sort of modernism at work.

I'm sort of interested in fan-fic (if I were in school, I think that's what I'd do some of my work on) for its attempts to supply characterization, motives and politics to stories where they are absent or only suggested. There's a puzzle mentality, a "make all the pieces fit together" mentality; but there's also a wish to think through various political and social questions.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 7:57 AM
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"Typically, fantasy publishers prefer a stronger emphasis on the fantastic elements of the storyline, while romance lines prefer a stronger emphasis on the development of the romantic relationship between the protagonists" ...from above article.

What I found personally offensive and threatening was the normative superiority TB placed on the socialization aspects of HP. I also consider that preference, implied to be morally superior to "lone wanderers, environmentally determined" to be dismissive and threatening to a genre, or subgenre, as genre.

"High Noon" doesn't work of the townspeople support the Sheriff. It ain't "High Noon"


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 7:59 AM
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Mieville is an interesting example; he appears to be character-driven

Huh, he does?

I certainly agree that his characters are flat at best. (I also might take a bit of exception with your claim that what's going on with his characterization is particularly modernist, but I'm guessing that you're thinking of The Waves?)


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:01 AM
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The "wizards ignorant of technology" thing *is* an annoying affectation, I agree. It would be one thing if the wizards were some kind of utterly secret society hidden away in catacombs or something, and muggle-born wizards were seen as telling silly and implausible stories. But wizards walk around in the muggle world all the time, and there are a *lot* of muggle-born wizards available to tell the pureborns about how things work. Are Harry and Hermione the very first muggle-borns that the Weasleys have ever gotten to know? That seems implausible unless they've secretly been pureblood bigots until Ron goes to school.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:02 AM
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45: Don't you think he's trying to be, though? All that stuff in Iron Council with the tragic romance, and the constant mediocre description of Bellis's point of view in The Scar? (I find it powerfully endearing and it does give force to the novels to a degree) Oh, and all that about Shekel and Tanner? Isn't he trying at least to show feelings and individual experiences as closely intertwined with political action?


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:06 AM
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I do not think that "Win-Win" means what ogged thinks it means.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:07 AM
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Someday I'm going to write a fantasy story in which the lonely orphan child discovers she has magical powers and that's cool except that being a magical child means she's expected to give up her love of sports and text messaging to learn how to perform arcane spells that might allow her to levitate a pencil.

And if it's already been written, I'm gonna write it better.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:08 AM
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41: Right, and that's the same economic pattern I was bitching about before. If you can't just make all the consumer goods you want magically, but there's this perfect isolation from the Muggle world, what do people eat? Are there wizard farmers, who for some reason use non-magical means to raise cattle so that wizards don't have to buy milk from Muggles? I'm not saying you couldn't fake up an explanation, but it's not going to be a convincing one.

40: Yes, exactly, and particularly the last paragraph.

But something has gone very wrong with a world in which children would rather read about a school-shaped theme-park than Greyfriars or Linbury Court or Malory Towers or //please insert name of contemporary school story here//. It's a pity if their first meetings with dragons and unicorns are in this mushed-up watered-down baby-food form. Oh, maybe after finishing Harry Potter they'll go looking for more dragon-books and stumble on A Wizard of Earthsea or The Sword in the Stone. But isn't it equally likely that 1.3 million words of knock-off reproduction fantasy will leave them never wanting to see another dragon ever again? And is that why the Harry Potter series seems to be approved of by the kinds of grown-ups who openly sneer at Tolkien readers? Do they secretly hope that J.K Rowling is a kind of spiritual vaccination that will cure the kids of imagination for the rest of their lives?

I know this is wrong, because I know people who like fantasy who also like HP. But I find myself feeling the same thing -- that the fad for them is driven by people who think fantasy is pernicious crap, and so want to drive people away from it by pretending that something truly crappy is the pinnacle of the genre.

42: Isn't the expectation of a whole lot of long distance commerce anachronistic for what is supposed to be a medieval economy? Long-distance trading was for expensive luxuries, like Gandalf's fireworks, not for things used in day-to-day life. And the way the geography is laid out, there aren't water routes between most of the places important in the books, making trade difficult and inconvenient -- it's like getting goods from Paris to Moscow. I'm not claiming that it's perfectly realistic, of course, but it doesn't collapse when you poke it a tiny bit like HP.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:09 AM
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49: I myself long to write a fantasy bildungsroman where the characters are somewhat rounded and plausible and aren't always way too intense at the drop of a hat. Actually, if you've ever looked at some of the stuff from Aqueduct Press (which publishes things that are sometimes dizzyingly dull, but unlike anything else I've read), there's a little bit of this already out there.

Of course, if you want to use fantasy tropes to do things that really aren't the point of fantasy, then you have to ask yourself if you wouldn't be better off just writing another "realistic" novel about middle class white people and infidelity or something.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:14 AM
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Fiction always seems dreadfully out of touch with the contemporary world. Years and years behind. Not just in terms of the impact of technologies, but also fashion, music, politics and wider culture.

It seems like there's a point, several years after a thing becomes ubiquitous in which novelists seem to sigh and say "I guess I'm going to have to make an effort to mention email/text-messaging/eBay in this one unless I want to set it in the past." Unless you're writing something informed entirely on real experiences, it seems like you not only write what you know, but write what you learned how to write. It must be an uncomfortable feeling to be forced (by the march of progress) to add a "character" that you'd be happier continuing to leave out.

True also of screenwriters, the people who design sets for TV shows, etc.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:19 AM
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41: In the last book, Rowling offers a quick explanation along the lines of magic's primary limitation being creation ex nihilo. You can duplicate the amount of food you have, and you can make illusions of food if you don't have any, but you can't make real food out of nothing. Why? Because otherwise Harry, Ron, and Hermione would have not had to bitch about the lack of food for fifty pages..... Come to think of it, it would have been pretty cool if Hermione had thought to hide from Voldemort by going and renting a flat in a Muggle area.

At first, I thought the wizards were sort of like the Amish or their own nation, with their own self-contained economy. But given that the entire population of wizarding children in England goes to Hogwarts, there don't seem to be enough wizards to explain where everything comes from. So they've got to be trading with Muggles, at least to get sneakers and jeans and eyeglasses... so why isn't there an exchange rate for the pound and the galleon?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:19 AM
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Mieville, meh. If you are interested in a genre as a cultural phenomena, I don't think you study or use the exceptional and superior works as data. You go read all the stuff at Ellora's Cave.
...
The mention of the possibly tangential piece on autistic girls was because I have a feminist, or maybe sexist, take on this. The article, in part, was about the increased socialization pressures placed on adolescent females.

Whether the changes from "lone wanderer, environmentally determined" to "community-building" as women readers and writers moved into fantasy are positive may depend on whether you think the superior verbal and social skills of girls are intrinsic or part of patriarchical roles, and whether adding pressures to socialize in the fiction written for them is instructive or pernicious and patriarchy-supportive.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:21 AM
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Yeah, ogged, I am just a fucking troll, with an inexplicable and irrational vendetta against Burke.

Bye.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:28 AM
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54: Well, sort of. Mieville isn't characteristic, but he is awfully influential--far more widely read among SF types than almost anything except for whatever David Eddings-equivalents are out there. It's not like I'm basing my arguement on the last eighty pages of Dhalgren. In fact, that's what's so exciting about SF to me--that there's such a huge overlap between what's good and what's popular. You have your Samuel Delany and your L Timmel DuChamp, yes, but you also have Kim Stanley Robinson and the first fifty pages of Snowcrash.

(You want an outlier? M John Harrison is an outlier. Although a big influence on Mieville, apparently)

I don't see quite so much separation between "community building" and "environmentally-determined" as you do, although this may be because I don't read a lot of, er, hard SF (pardon me, vicar). Obviously, Robinson--and there's someone who's read more by men that women, AFAICT. (He's teh yawns, for me.) But consider Le Guin's "community building"--most of her post-Earthsea books are very environmentally-determinist (Always Coming Home, the stories in The Birthday of the World) but they're about the negotiation of that determinism.

Plus, isn't the turn away from classic SF a sixties thing as much as anything else? All that New Worlds stuff? And there's a big need-for-new-themes element, plus male writers who are friends with feminists or who are themselves politically active.

Whether the changes from "lone wanderer, environmentally determined" to "community-building" as women readers and writers moved into fantasy are positive may depend on whether you think the superior verbal and social skills of girls are intrinsic or part of patriarchical roles, and whether adding pressures to socialize in the fiction written for them is instructive or pernicious and patriarchy-supportive.

This really seems to oversimplify how people read and what they're likely to read--as if somehow there are legions of girls simple-mindedly reading nothing but some sub-Garth Nix series as their only window on the world. That sure wasn't how I read stuff when I was young.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:36 AM
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I always feel odd criticising books on the basis of whether the characters are rounded and plausible or not, because I can think of so few books that I'd call successful on those grounds. Most of what I read, the characters are cardboard and meant that way, and I tend to be more irritated by books that attempt deeper characterization, because (IMO) they almost always fail on plausibility -- they create a more complex character, but a less convincing person.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:46 AM
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But given that the entire population of wizarding children in England goes to Hogwarts, there don't seem to be enough wizards to explain where everything comes from

I think this was a real "blunder" on Rowling's part. it cements the implausible as truly ridiculous. (my kids bitched about this one immediately) If this is the case, why do you even need a multi-story Ministry of Magic, much less how do you staff it?
Fill in the blank. The total number of wizards in England is ____.
Also exactly what muggle time-period is it set in?

In my opinion, these do not detract from most reader modes of interaction. The massive and wonderful/awful fan-fiction universe illustrates that. It does erode its "realizable fantasy world" cred, for those who care about it.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:49 AM
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57: Well, it depends on what you mean by "criticizing"--a book isn't a failure because it lacks "convincing" characters (and what does that even mean?). Talking about what we know about the characters, how we know it, whether they masquerade convincingly as actual humans--that's interesting.

But what about Maragaret Drabble, LB? You read her books, I think, and with at least the ones up through the late eighties isn't that the whole point? From Jerusalem the Golden to The Radient Way, those are books that rely on a detailed, "realistic" depiction of how a few characters think and see the world...she wants, I think, to write down and record a certain kind of bourgeois-striver female subjectivity, and incidentally the decline of the left in the UK (which she applauds in a way I find annoying).


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:51 AM
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(Boy, I really can't spell at all this morning, and don't you think that I'm overusing those rhetorical questions?)


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 8:52 AM
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58: Bigger fans than I have done the math and figured out that one of the books (Chamber of Secrets) is set in 92 or 93.

As far as characters and plausibility go, it's not so much what they do or are as whether they violate the rules (say) of human psychology while pretending to adhere to them. It's why villains are often laughable and we can make Evil Overlord rules: they're meant to be cunning and powerful because they're crafty yet conveniently have master plans that could be defeated by kindergartners.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:04 AM
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59: That's true -- I'd call Drabble very successful at drawing real people, as is her sister. But that's fantastically difficult, and so few people manage it at all successfully.

What I was thinking about (in my genre driven way) was the contrast between the O'Brien Aubrey/Maturin books, and the Cornwell Sharpe books -- both series of adventure stories about the Napoleonic wars. Last night someone (lw? I'm not going to check) described the Sharpe books as having cardboard characters, in contrast to the A/M books. And while the A/M books certainly have more ambitiously attempted characterization, they don't get any nearer to plausibility.

I guess I have the sense that I'm supposed to regard an attempt at realistic characterization as a literary virtue regardless of whether it succeeds, and this throws me into a tizzy of over-and-under criticalness: should I pick apart a book that lots of people find entertaining, just because it's imperfect? Should I feel apologetic for often preferring books inhabited by competently crafted cardboard puppets to those inhabited by junkheaps of inconsistently 'realistic' character traits? And I am often both inhibited about the first, and apologetic about the second.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:05 AM
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61: I find it disconcerting to realize that Snape was already dead, so to speak, by the time I read the first book. On the other hand, this merely leaves more space for my not-quite-fan-fic notion that the whole series is Ministry-of-Magic-friendly and doesn't reflect the way things "really" happened.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:08 AM
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41, 46: I actually want to defend Rowling on this. Or if not her, defend the Potterverse. We get a very weird view of a lot of stuff because the whole story follows Harry Potter. He's an orphan world-famous within the Wizarding world and his best friends are deeply immersed in it (Ron's a pureblood with a big family, Hermione's a magic geek) but he's forced to live with Muggles most of the time.

And because it's a kid's story, we get lots of plot points that are just fun or funny. Ron's dad, for example, has a hobbyist's love of Muggle life. Like some sitcom father, he's amiably incompetent with it, because it's more entertaining that way. The doctor who takes care of him (book five, the guy who agrees to experiment with using stitches on him), pretty much by definition is deeply immersed in the wizarding world. Some other wizards also demonstrate a shocking ignorance of Muggle culture, like the guy who showed up to the Quidditch world up in women's clothes -- but not all of them. Harry remarked that the elder Crouch would have made Mr. Dursley feel right at home. There are Muggle-related departments of the Ministry of Magic, and people work in them.

As for the food specifically, there's probably a grocery store in Hogsmeade and/or Diagon Alley, and either it's supplied by wizarding farmers or its bookkeeper has to keep a close eye on the galleon-pound exchange rate, and Mrs. Weasley Apparates there every other day. We don't see it because Harry spends like two weeks living in the private homes of wizards over the course of the series. Yes, I'm making this up, but if it's not as plausible as Middle-Earth, it's not totally implausible either.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:10 AM
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62: There really needs to be less apologetic-ness by people about what they read. It's not what you read, generally, it's what you can say about what you read--that is, if you're talking to me. Taste, schmaste, that's what I say. Just don't bore me.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:10 AM
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64: This is kind of what I love about reading the HP books--you can play it both ways, either as a book that paradigmatically reveals the "impossibility" of narrative (everything falls apart if you press it; it's really still just a sequence of anecdotes without good causality) or you can engage in the pleasurable (and often useful) game of explaining things.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:12 AM
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53: But given that the entire population of wizarding children in England goes to Hogwarts, there don't seem to be enough wizards to explain where everything comes from.

But is this really true? Quote, please.


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:14 AM
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You can look up your own quotes, but it's a pretty common assumption and I think Rowling's confirmed it in an interview.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:18 AM
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65: Oh, it's not so much apologeticness about what I read, it's apologeticness about talking about it on a level beyond expressing simple pleasure in it. I get heated about HP because of the fad, which I find annoying.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:24 AM
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I am slowly coming round to the dsquared 'enough of the fucking Harry Potter' viewpoint.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:24 AM
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70 gets it right.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:25 AM
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58: The total number of wizards in England is ____. About five hundred purebloods, making a rough estimate from Sirius' family tree, and about 10 times that many if you count all the Mudbloods and Squibs and stuff. (Yes, I am pulling this out of my ass again.) The Ministry of Magic and St. Mungo's hospital are deceptively big: all those floors, but did we ever actually see a staff directory? And most of their work relates to law enforcement, the magical equivalent of natural disasters, or to the non-human magical races. They probably employ a slightly larger percentage of the magical population than the real British civil service employs of the general population.

In fairness, that really should be/should have been fleshed out a lot better. I kind of assume that there are Muggle-born wizards or witches who attended Hogwarts, but actually got along with their Muggle families (unlike Harry or Severus or Lily or anyone else we saw...), and they live in both worlds a little bit. They work for a Muggle accountant but do their shopping on Diagon Alley, they meet a Muggle through work and start dating and have to agonize over when to tell them about magic, etc. Or at the very least, they live in Hogsmeade and work in some magical research company, but still see their Muggle family on the holidays.

... But then I remember about the secrecy laws, so that's improbable. Waah.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 9:27 AM
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a book that paradigmatically reveals the "impossibility" of narrative

The narrative I like is flawed, thus demonstrating that all narratives are inherently flawed. Paradigm.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 10:24 AM
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Mieville has characters? I thought he just had pages with monsters, pages with monster-based speeches and pages with political speeches.

This may be the most sexist thing that I have ever thought, but I wonder whether women who read the Aubrey and Maturin novels are reading the same books that men read.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 10:33 AM
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Um, spell that out?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 10:38 AM
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56: M John Harrison = Virconia. Harrison was probably influenced by Jack Vance

Harrison & Vance reminds me of another point. TB admits that Cooper is probably a better prose stylist than Rowling, and Frowner mentions Cooper's poetic capabilities and intent.

Besides the environmental determinism, prose style has always been important in fantasy & SF, and F & SF/Horror has always been open to experimental and idiosyncratic prose. People who were reading Hamilton, Campbell, Williamson in the 20s & 30s were also reading Howard, Lovecraft, Ashton-Smith. Heinlein & Alfred Bester were contemporaries. And then of course the New Wave and the 65-75 peaks and excesses.

Delany IIRC at one point said F & SF was almost entirely about experiments with language. I don't differentiate as much as many do between "hard" and "soft" SF (or fantasy), they are just playing a similar game with differing base vocabularies.

And the writers easily moved around. James Blish wrote "Cities in Space" (hard) in the early fifties, "Black Easter"(fantasy) in the mid-60s, and "A Case of Conscience" (religious allegory) in between.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 10:38 AM
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Delany IIRC at one point said F & SF was almost entirely about experiments with language.

Hm, he might well have said that, but that doesn't mean it's true. (I would not deny in the slightest that stylistic experimentation has a venerable history in the genre(s), but that doesn't mean that's what the genres, or most of the works in them, are primarily about.)


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 10:44 AM
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This may be the most sexist thing that I have ever thought, but I wonder whether women who read the Aubrey and Maturin novels are reading the same books that men read.

What?


Posted by: Cry6ptic Ned | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 10:46 AM
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76: Oh, I was thinking of M John Harrison as someone who is avowedly uncomfortable, for fancy-pants literary reasons, with the whole idea of "world building". If I were going to teach some kind of New Criticism/"No on the authorial intent" class, Harrison would be a fantastic person to talk about. Everything he says about his own work is either annoying (ie, the tiny little notes on each story at the end of Things That Never Happen) or grossly inadequate (his whole "It reads much better as 'A Young Man's Journey To London'"--yeah, if you're absolutely deaf to inference and need everything spelled out)

On the other hand, I would give most anything for one of those paintings he uses on the covers of Things That Never Happen and The Course of the Heart.

The thing is, there are trends in SF/F, of course, but I have trouble with a periodization that implies "here is how readers were experiencing these texts across the board" or which takes the sort of classic moment of a wave/trend as if it represented the whole--like pointing to, say, The Wanderground as if it encapsulated 70s feminist SF.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 10:48 AM
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Let's see, we were talking about unreliable narrators a while back.

Heinlein's "Double Star" on one level is a fairly simple Prisoner of Zenda rip-off. But it won a Hugo because it uses an unreliable first-person narration, unreliable because the character of the narrator is changing without the narrator entirely realising it.

In 1953 or so. Popular not for plot, or character, it would be a completely ordinary book in 3rd person, but mostly for the stylistic experiment.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 10:58 AM
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re: 78

[not presuming to respond for Flippanter]

There's nothing sexist about pointing out that novels will be read differently by different groups of readers.*

I presume that happens in all kinds of ways, not just between men and women, but in other ways too. In this case, books of 'boy's own' adventure might speak differently to men -- who, generally, will have grown up more immersed in that sort of stuff -- ditto other literature for women. I suspect, for example, that many women read, say, Villette differently from the way I do. In a different way, James Baldwin, say, will speak differently to African-Americans than his work does to white people.

Or, closer to home, my reading of, say, Trainspotting will be very different from the average American reader's and the novel will speak differently to me.

* all the caveats go here.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 10:59 AM
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Sure, I'm just curious what specifically Flippanter meant. (Partially because I brought up the Pat O'Brien books, so I think he was reacting to what I said about them.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:01 AM
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77:well, it is a pretty radical and post-modern take, but I am the guy who says there is no "Molly Bloom", in any sense that "Molly Bloom" can be said to exist or be represented. Jimmy was fooling ya.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:02 AM
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IN MY OPINION MOLLY BLOOM IS A FICTIONAL CHARACTER

I REALIZED THAT AFTER I PUT MORE THOUGHT INTO IT THAN YOU MEN DID


Posted by: OPINIONATED GRANDMA | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:03 AM
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re: 82

Ah, yeah.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:05 AM
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Now, I know that different groups read different books differently; that's an important observation. But it's equally important not to let stupid generalizations in the back door, so to speak--Men read for teh adventure! Women read for teh relationships! Men who read for teh relationships are so rare as to be meaningless outliers! Women who, etc! And no one reads for both! Or for something else entirely!


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:14 AM
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Yeah. I didn't mean to jump on or threaten Flippanter by asking what he meant, but I can't think of a 'sexist' thought process that would be a reasonable response to what I said.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:22 AM
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79.3: Well, I am not sure what you mean about the periodization, but my point about the 20s 30s stuff is simply that two strongly different styles sold and were read by the same or similar audiences. I didn't mention Olaf Stapledon, a third style, because I am not sure he was read by the pulp crowd.

As contrast, and I am guessing, but I don't think a detective or mystery story written in a Lovecraftian prose would have been as readily accepted by the audience for Hammett or Christie.

This is consistent over decades. I look at my vast shelf of recent mysteries and hard-boileds, and within ranges of skills, the prose styles are fairly uniform, at least as compared to what I see published under S & Sf imprints.

Not to say there isn't a base style for mass-market narratives. But exceptions are more marketable. Gene Wolfe gets sold.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:24 AM
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I was thinking maybe it was something like, "When I hear women talk about that series, I always find myself wondering if we read the same books."


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:24 AM
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87: You have a vagina, so you cna't reed dis.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:25 AM
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84: "Molly Bloom" is not a fictional character.

The prose in Ulysses is doing too much work. Nobody thinks in a figure 8 during the couse of a night. Subtract the non-representational and non-naturalistic elements from Ulysses and you are not left with a naturalistic core, you are left with...nothing.

"Molly Bloom" exists in an authorially intended misreading of Ulysses, one that looks "thru" the stylistic excesses and authorial intrusions. It's pretty funny, really.

More easily seen with Anna Livia Plurabelle. Very few think ALP is a "fictional character" in FW.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 11:38 AM
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61: space for my not-quite-fan-fic notion that the whole series is Ministry-of-Magic-friendly and doesn't reflect the way things "really" happened.

I really like that interpretation. The whole series as an exercise in nostalgic propaganda reinforcing Ministry hegemony.

We have always been at war with the Death-eaters.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 12:07 PM
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92: Oh, I have a whole theory, let me tell you, involving the post-"Cold War" descent of the UK wizarding world into a sort of pop authoritarianism; an undeveloped north and midlands, and all kinds of boring details. (I've also got a nifty one about Sauron as a sort of anti-colonialist authoritarian Marxist leader, derived from a passing acquaintance with certain African anti-colonial struggles...that one was the product of a long car trip)

Back when I was about eleven or twelve, I really did write what I realize in retrospect was fanfic. I had no idea that anyone else had ever done such a thing.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 12:13 PM
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The economic and geographic holes in Middle Earth have finally begun to nag at my enjoyment a bit. (But it took a long time - with an assist from the movies - not directly due to their actual content - rather they gave me impetus to try and build an alternative realistic visualization.)

Just one I'll mention:
Keep on telling me about how obscure Hobbits were even back in the day JRR, 'cuz it makes me want to puke. They only occupied a good chunk of desirable land astride a main east-west road and very close to the major north-south thruway. (Bree shoulda been the Chicago of its day.) But don't let that get in the way of the narrative of your little Ewok-anticipatory rat people rising from obscurity to trouble the minds of the mighty.**

Anyway here is an appropriately modernized Middle Earth.

Discovered in Tolkein's papers long after his death were the notes for a new story. It was to be set in a new age of Middle Earth, long after the dwarves had been rounded up and herded into to bleak, rural reservations, long after the elves were no longer to be seen anywhere outside the Museum of Mythical Creatures. The new Middle Earth was a quiet, no-nonsense world of airports, malls and sitcoms, but then Bonnie Baggins found a ring of power in her grandmother's attic.

**I had my decades of enjoyment of LotR - now I am looking to preemptively ruin it for a new generation.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 12:22 PM
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LotR and HP share a problem that's common to a lot of fantasy worlds, good and bad: there just aren't enough people in them. I think it must be hard to create an populate an entire society, but it plagues a lot of different works: The Land doesn't have anywhere near enough Stonedowners and Woodhelvenin, Krynn seems to be just a few isolated cities, most of Middle-Earth seems to be uninhabited, young Simon spends most of his time (in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn) in the woods, etc.

I'm guessing it's mainly because it's boring to write, "And then our heroes spent another three days trudging through mile after mile of farmland."


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 12:30 PM
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You can't fool me. I read Two Towers. They didn't trudge, they did an ultramarathon!


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 12:34 PM
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Yeah, now I'm trying to imagine appropriately-populated places...even Mieville (who had the advantage of a lot of RPG world-building in the background) doesn't seem to provide any suburbs, small cities, etc. Each empire seems to be basically one city plus hinterland.

M John Harrison does, but that's because he's writing about London and suburbs. (There's a tremendous advantage, in fact, to "alternate history", "our world plus magic" etc, in that there's already so much infilling done by the reader)

Ursula Le Guin simply works the emptiness--it's always part of her stories that the world is thinly settled, or depopulated by plague or disaster.

Disaster and empty worlds are utopias, of course.

In fact, that's one reason that I like The Scar so much--when you're out in the middle of the ocean on a floating pirate city, it's fairly easy to fill in enough detail to seem natural.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 12:45 PM
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Discworld, maybe? Lots of other cities outside of Ankh-Morpork, lots of different kinds of places, you see some rural-ish backwoods in the Witches stories...


Posted by: Tom Scudder | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 12:55 PM
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And would GGK's semi-historical books count? I'm thinking of The Lions of Al-Rassan, in particular, which has a bunch of different cities with noticeably different characters, rural places, and various miscellany.


Posted by: Tom Scudder | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 12:59 PM
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Discworld plays up the idea that there's a lot of the map that hasn't been well defined (miles and miles of bloody uberwald.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 1:03 PM
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98: Yeah, Discworld is a lot more interesting from a writtenness standpoint than it's given credit for being...Pratchett goes all soppy and sentimental and trite when he tries to Make Some Kind of Statement, but the world itself is very well planned, partly because there's a clear organizing system--the elephants, the Rim, the Hub, Cori Celesti and all that--so that you feel like you know what else is out there even if you can't name it. This method wouldn't work for a lot of worlds, though. And now that I think about it, the Discworld is a lot more compatible with globalization than Middle Earth is, and hence maybe feels more natural. Middle Earth is designed by someone for whom only the fringes of Europe are really real, and I bet that's a lot more tenable a position before television and (god knows) the web.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 1:07 PM
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LotR and HP share a problem that's common to a lot of fantasy worlds, good and bad: there just aren't enough people in them ... most of Middle-Earth seems to be uninhabited

I'm not sure that's that unrealistic. Until really pretty late on , much of Europe* was uninhabited. The UK is a densely populated country but there are still huge swathes of it where there are miles and miles of open country with the occasional hamlet or small village. The entire northern 2/3rds of Scotland [not including the coast] is largely empty. For someone like Tolkien, writing in the first half of the 20th century and who grew up when and where he did, it's not at ALL weird that the Shire should be like it is. Nor is the relative isolation of the Shire economically implausible.

There are parts of England, to this day, that are pretty much exactly like that. Even Surrey, which is on the edge of London, has miles and miles of rural countryside not unlike the Shire, never mind more remote places like the West Country or similar.

I don't really want to defend the realism of Tolkien's vision, it's clearly riddled with flaws, but that someone writing in the early 20th century should present a world that looks a lot like, say, pre-20th century England, is hardly surprising.

* which is just about as hospitable an environment for people as exists anywhere on Earth ...


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 1:08 PM
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Say, nattarGcM, I know I have politics that are frustrating to the point of intolerability, but: have you ever been up around Ullapool or Durness or the very north of Scotland generally? I've got a couple of fairly simple questions that mere generalized internet research doesn't seem to be answering if you have.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 1:56 PM
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102: Right, and someone who's writing about a medieval-ish period. Thinly populated doesn't seem implausible. There's also the fact that in a pre-cars-and-railroads period, you move quickly through settled areas, and very slowly through wilderness, so a journey going through both is going to involve a lot of "Now we spent three weeks crossing this trackless waste, now two days doing the same distance through farmland". (Also, not arguing for the realism of Tolkien generally, but I don't think it has this particular flaw -- there's room for a whole lot of peasants without inconsistency with the book.)

101: And of course Pratchett has an advantage on creating plausible complexity without inconsistency, because the parodic nature of the whole setup gives him a pass on a lot of inconsistency.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 2:05 PM
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98: Well, Discworld is kind of the exception that proves the rule, since (a) it's at least half parody of fantasy worlds, so it's very tongue in cheek, and (b) a lot of those foreign parts are based closely on real nations or regions.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 2:07 PM
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I'm not sure that's that unrealistic. Until really pretty late on , much of Europe* was uninhabited.

I guess I mean it's not the low population density I find unrealistic, it's the total population of these fantasy nations and city-states. I'll buy that there's a lot of empty land, but there ought to be either more smaller or fewer bigger settlements, or something. I'm not really making much sense.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 2:34 PM
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re: 103

You're politics are fine, it's the metapolitics I find confusing. Please don't think I was being hostile to you personally! Trenchant argument, yes. Personal animus, no.

I'm afraid I don't know that area at all, I'm from much further south, in the central belt. I can probably find out what you want to know, though, or at least evaluate some sources for rough 'does this gel with what I know of my country' accuracy, if that would help.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 2:41 PM
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just trying to say that academics who write about culture should be able to talk about whether a particular work is bad or good AND talk about its historical context, its audiences, its ideological significance, and success as a product. Right now, a lot of folks in the humanities see some of those kinds of discussions as exclusive.

I don't think I believe this. I think the Studieses have done their work, made people in the "disciplines" see the virtue of thinking outside their boxes, and now there is nothing done in Anything Studies that couldn't be done in a traditional department. I hereby declare the indefensible credo that all Studieses should go away, their faculty being allocated to various traditional departments.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 3:00 PM
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re: 108

Leaving a department of Studies Studies behind to evaluate and contextualize their legacy, naturally.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 3:05 PM
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Leaving a department of Studies Studies

They're like cockroaches, these Studieses. You just can't get rid of them.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 3:18 PM
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Tricksy studieses, always keeping them from us... yes, our precious faculty. We wants them!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 3:30 PM
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No, no no, no. We don't want the faculty. We want the positions, y'see. All your lines are belong to us.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 3:35 PM
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Ah, thought of another: Bujold's Curse of Chalion & sequels, which have a lot of villages, towns of various sizes, outlying manor houses &c &c. From what I recall, Cherryh's Fortress in the Eye of Time series works okay on this level as well, except that it's so boring it's halfway to the core of the earth.


Posted by: Tom Scudder | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 3:42 PM
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The Chalion novels have approximately the same advantage in
terms of filling out the world as Kay does--it's just that Bujold doesn't include a map and turns everything upside-down, so it's a little less obvious.

Also, Rowling is a lot more similar to Diana Wynne Jones than she is to Cooper.


Posted by: micah | Link to this comment | 08- 7-07 10:58 PM
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