So You Want to Have a War?
Starting with Tolkien, it’s become practically obligatory that the epic fantasy saga, somewhere around the middle of book three, feature an Epic Confrontation Between Good and Evil with a Cast of Thousands.
I am, I have to admit, a war buff. I read military histories for fun, the kind with fold-out maps covered in little colored arrows and notations like “Kollowrath (40,000)”. As I am also a fantasy novelist, the nature of war in fantasy fiction has always been fascinating to me.
And there is a lot of war in fantasy. Starting with Tolkien, it’s become practically obligatory that the epic fantasy saga, somewhere around the middle of book three, feature an Epic Confrontation Between Good and Evil with a Cast of Thousands. Various allies, painfully recruited over the course of the hero’s journey, turn up to lend a hand at the Final Battle. Various villains are dispatched, hapless orcs or equivalent humanoids are mowed down by the score, and just when things seem bleakest Evil is defeated forever. A beloved secondary character or two bites the dust, and someone gets to make a Heroic Sacrifice. Afterward, we may be treated to a scene where the hero roams a battlefield strewn with corpses, or visits the injured to bring home the horrors of combat. You know, war, right?
Back before I wrote fantasy myself, my wargamer friends and I used to snicker a bit at this. Most of the fantasy authors wouldn’t know a halberd from a half-pike, and their descriptions of battles were usually heavy on bold strokes and dramatic confrontations and light on tactics and the important of proper reconnaissance. I wouldn’t want to be a poor foot-slogger in either army, given the rate at which they tend to be chewed up by either the hero and his friends or some villain demonstrating the full extent of his power. Continue reading
The birth was messy. Sweat, blood, tears, and cerebrospinal fluid slicked the white tile. Dirty forceps, scalpels, and fountain pens were strewn haphazardly. In a pail of ink, a half-formed idea wailed. The thought-doctors could only guess if it would make it.
–From Skull Born, the very first (and thankfully unpublished) Lacuna story
Metafiction, at its most basic, is fiction about fiction. This can take a variety of forms. Everything from John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse to Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind, can be considered metafiction.
Stories about storytelling have always interested me. An early influence on my writing were Walter Moers’ Zamonia books, specifically The City of Dreaming Books. In it, he imagined a decadent, surreal wonderland of writers, publishers, and booklovers. Books and stories literally came alive and posed serious dangers to the citizens of Bookholm.
The first Lacuna story was more-or-less Bookholmian fan fiction as seen through the eyes of China Mieville. It was very metafictional, with book ideas being torn from the skulls of writers in a bizarre send-off of a birthing ritual. These idea-babies were fed books, poems, emotions; anything to make them more robust. Literary devices manifested as physical deformities on the idea-husk. They would develop into golemic mandrake roots of pulp and story. Once they became large enough, the authors would consume the idea, go into a trance-like state, and write an entire manuscript in one sitting. Continue reading
Release Date: 20020107
Publisher: Tor Books
I have spent the past eight commentaries talking about where I was as a reader in my early-to-mid 20′s when I first read (and then re-read, in some cases more than twice) the first eight volumes of The Wheel of Time. For the first seven, I read them all within a two-week stretch in-between and just after my MA exams in November 1997. The eighth volume, The Path of Daggers, I bought on its release date and re-read either once or twice (memory is faint) before November 7, 2000, when the ninth Wheel of Time novel, Winter’s Heart, came out in the US.
The astute readers probably have realized by now that if I am talking about books last read around 10 years ago, then it must have been Winter’s Heart that gave me a long pause in my reading. That is indeed true, as not only was there a shade over two years to wait until the tenth volume, Crossroads of Twilight, but I never re-read any of the first nine in the interim, nor did I read that volume until 2006 on a lark. What happened in this reading that finally caused me to do the metaphorical throwing up of hands in surrender? Continue reading
Mahabharata: A Dangerous Game
My enthusiasm and love for these characters and this story will serve for the purpose at hand: encouraging you, dear reader, to immerse yourself in the Mahabharata.
The last two iterations of this column have played it safe. I’ve read Journey to the West in two languages and studied it from a variety of angles, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms, too though to a lesser extent. I could continue in this vein—the next logical essay would be on Outlaws of the Marsh / The Water Margin, China’s great Robin Hood novel and one of Mao Zedong’s favorite books, followed probably by Dream of the Red Chamber for more domestic source material. (Or Jin Ping Mei, if we want to get the sexy-fun-times element in play…)
But while all these stories are great, I’m not as passionate about them as I am about the story I want to discuss now. The problem is, I’m nowhere near as cut out to write this essay as I was the first two—I don’t know the source language, Sanskrit, and I haven’t spent as much time studying the work’s cultural context. (I’m not ignorant, I just don’t have a four year degree, six years of language study, and three years in-country.) There’s also much more chance I’ll do inadvertent harm writing this essay, since the text I’m about to discuss is a live, and lived, religious document in addition to one of the greatest adventure stories, romances, war stories, and apocalyptic tales of all time.
That said, maybe my enthusiasm and love for these characters and this story will serve for the purpose at hand: encouraging you, dear reader, to immerse yourself in the Mahabharata. And I hope that will be worth whatever unintentional harm I do. Continue reading
The Path of Daggers
Release Date: 19991215
Publisher: Tor Books
If A Crown of Swords is the first WoT book that I bought, A Path of Daggers (October 1998 publication) is the first WoT book that I bought in hardcover, on its release date. I read the first seven volumes while I was finishing up my MA in History at the University of Tennessee in 1997, but this volume I purchased while I was halfway through my 16 month teacher education/student teaching coursework. I remember using the internet in the university computer lab to look for several release dates for books I had a vague interest in and I saw when The Path of Daggers would be released in a few weeks, so I used some of my student loan money that I had at the time (between classwork and my required 60 hours of classroom observation, no way was I going to be able to hold even a part-time job) and bought the book in a local mall. Continue reading