Saturday, February 27, 2021

I just started The Riddle-Master of Hed, book #1 of Patricia A. McKillip's Riddle-Master Trilogy

"Beware the unanswered riddle."
I just started The Riddle-Master of Hed, book #1 of Patricia A. McKillip's Riddle-Master Trilogy.
After that brief touch with the grimdark, I feel a need to cleanse my soul - and I know of no better way that by re-reading this classic series. Tis an absolute delight returning to the High One's realm where the ancient art of riddlery is taught at the College of Caithnard, and seeing such dear friends as Morgon of Hed, Deth, and Raederle of An again. Indeed, this series has a special place in my heart, for here McKillip taught me the fifth kind of riddle (and, as everyone knows, riddles are my stock-in-trade).
"Beware another riddle-master."

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

I am stopping the grimdark Monarchies of God by Paul Kearney

Well, that was unfortunate yet not quite unexpected. Time to do that which I have only done twice before: quit a Fantasy series and consign it to the literal recycle bin.
Yes, I am stopping Monarchies of God by Paul Kearney, the series I began two days ago, as sadly my suspicions were more than borne out. After GRRM, I can smell the grimdark and this more than well-written Fantasy rewrite of the effects of Fall of Constantinople combined in dark union with the Spanish Inquisition and Christopher Columbus' 'discovery' of America reeks of that cynicism which I so utterly despise and is so aptly named the Treason of the Intellectuals.

Good riddance. (And yes, I am literally going to toss this filth into the recycle bin.)

I can hear you saying, "Ian, by your own admission you started to book two days ago. How can you say such things, make such strong accusations, so quickly?" My answer: research. Those two days prompted me to Google whether Monarchies of God is classified as grimdark, for I was uncertain seeing as it came out before A Song of Ice and Fire essentially created and lionized the sub-genre. 

What did I find? Well, the Wikipedia page dedicated to it says "the series is noteworthy for its ruthlessness in dispatching major characters...[and] has also been criticized for its pessimism." Ring a Westerosi bell? Beyond this, many Fantasy websites and Reddit users classify it as a lighter form of GRRM while still unquestionably grimdark. Yet the last straw was an interview of Paul Kearney, namely a specific question asked and the author's answer:

Question: "Another observation is that there’s very strong melancholy in your protagonists – Hawkwood, Corfe, Rol. They are often forlorn and sad if determined. What is the reason behind that? Is there some part of Paul in the books’ heroes?"
Kearney's answer: "Possibly. I do not believe that mankind is basically good with a few bad apples in the barrel. I believe that mankind is intrinsically weak and selfish and will happily indulge evil, provided it does not interfere with everyday life. Some shining exceptions exist, but they are by definition not the rule. So for those who have some experience of the world outside their comfortable little box, this is a given. Life is hard. It makes you pay. You must struggle merely to survive. I guess that attitude bleeds into my characters."
An answer/belief which is, like the grimdark it spawns, the complete and utter antithesis of the Spirit of Tolkien in addition to being an almost dictionary definition of the Treason of the Intellectuals. By rights all who espouse such cynical tomfoolery should feel the full force of my contempt so hard as to frost their windows.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Just started Hawkwood's Voyage, book one of the Monarchies of God by Paul Kearney

Just started Hawkwood's Voyage, book one of the Monarchies of God by Paul Kearney.
I will not lie: I have grave suspicions regarding this series as it reportedly toes the line of and even crosses into the grimdark so, unlike with other books, I make no unspoken vow to finish it. That said, it starts with a bang for something stirs in the depths even as religious warfare has felled the Holy City of Aekir. (Hopefully I do not regret this, but it has sat unread, untested, on my shelves for too long.)


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

I just finished The Sacred Hunt Duology by Michelle West

Sound the silver horn, call the hunt.
I just finished Hunter’s Death, the second book of The Sacred Hunt Duology by Michelle West.
Duty is a hard master, requiring sacrifice no less than and often because of love - which of course is what in the end makes the duty worthwhile and noble. Duties driven by love-born oaths freely given, responsibilities and cares willing taken. By such oaths was Dark God Allasakar pushed from the mortal plane, by such sacrifices willingly made. Breodanir and the City of the Twin Kings is safe. The Hunter's Price is paid.

Thank you and well done Stephen and Gilliam of Elseth, Evayne, Kallandras, Meralonne Aphaniel, Jewel Markess, Torvan and Devon ATerafin, The Terafin, Espere, Zareth Kahn, Princess Mirialyn ACormaris, Lady Elsabet of Elseth, Soredon and Norn of Elseth, and last but not least Cynthia of Maubreche.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Terciel and Elinor news

Terciel and Elinor comes out this November, and if the cover is any judge it looks amazing. What I find interesting is that Mogget is in the form of a cat here. Terciel told Sabriel that Mogget always took the form of an albino dwarf boy with him; as I recall, he was unaware of Mogget's name and that he could become a cat.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Black History Month

I have never made a post regarding Black History Month because, as I have often said, I avoid as many real-world matters as I can here on Stars Uncounted. However, for everything there is a first time so I will give my take regarding race in Fantasy literature. The short of it is that I agree with Ursula K. Le Guin, who has criticized what she describes as the general assumption in Fantasy that characters should be White and that the society should resemble the Middle Ages. Of course, the Fantastic has expanded quite a bit since she uttered those words, with cultures and settings that are far from always clearly Medieval, and yet the Whiteness of characters and a general European cultural flavor remains. Why is this so? Honestly, I am unsure. Maybe it is habit, maybe it is that White authors feel unqualified to base their created cultures off those not their own or fear being accused of cultural appropriation; maybe Black authors feel non-European based cultures would be of lesser interest to readers. I cannot say. I do, however, think it is a problem that the Fantasy genre must needs overcome. Knights and castles are nice, but they get old after a while; which is why I seek unique Fantasy these days.

Yet I can say that of one seeks quality Fantasy with non-White characters then I highly recommend The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin; and I say non-White instead of Black because the skin color of the characters is primarily described as red-brown. Better yet, the only White people in the Earthsea universe are from the Kargad Lands and are they are described (and typically act) as savages.

One also might be interested in the Vows and Honor Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey. While most of the characters are White, one of the series' two main protagonists is Tarma shena Tale'sedrin who is a black-golden skinned woman from the southern Dhorisha Plains. Not ideal, perhaps, but Tarma is one of my favorite characters in Fantasy literature period and, furthermore, Mercedes Lackey absolutely skewers sexism in the series.

There is in addition Moon-Flash and its sequel The Moon and the Face by Patricia A. McKillip. An anthropological Fantasy book for lack of a better term, though it is marked as sci-fi, McKillip is incapable of writing anything other than a lyrical masterpiece in which the words flow like a river off the page, though your soul, and back again. Which is not unlike the story as, for Kyreol and Terje, the strange becomes the familiar and the familiar strange as two separate worlds come together through dreams that stretch across the cosmos, the innate power of the Riverworld, and love.





These are the three that stick out in my mind insofar as having Colored main protagonists go. Doubtless I am forgetting others from my own bookshelf, but I seldom notice skin-color in Fantasy literature unless it carries a racial bearing that impacts the plotline of the book in question. For while it is true that Fantasy tends towards White main characters, those protagonists are never racist towards secondary characters where skin-color is concerned; thus any concern regarding race is always based on a purely cultural standpoint. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan is a perfect example of this for, while cultural prejudices exist aplenty (though rarely from the five core characters), skin-color is a non-issue.

Now I can hear you saying, "but what about Black Fantasy authors? The three series' mentioned above were written by White women." Simply put, I never pay attention to the author's race or gender when searching for or reading Fantasy. It simply does not enter into my calculations. As said Anne McCaffrey, "A good story is a good story no matter who wrote it," meaning, in this context, that when I am in a bookstore searching for new Fantasies I just pull out whatever looks interesting, read the back and/or inside cover, and if it passes muster I give it a try. As I have said in the past, to me the Art is far more important than the Artist. Not that there is anything wrong with searching for and filling your bookshelf with works written by Black authors, but it is not my style because, like with this blog, Fantasy is where I go to escape all real-world matters.

"I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter." – J.R.R. Tolkien

“Stories of the sort I am describing…they cool us…hence the uneasiness which they arouse in those who, for whatever reason, wish to keep us wholly imprisoned in the immediate conflict. That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge of 'escape'. I never wholly understood it until my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, "What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and hostile to, the idea of escape?" and gave the obvious answer: jailers.” – C.S. Lewis

And if you want to move beyond literature? Well, I am no expert, but Avatar: The Last Airbender (and its sequel The Legend of Korra) is a flawless example of an exemplary Fantasy where none of the cultures are European-based and several protagonists are dark-skinned.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Quote of the month

 "A question like ‘How big is Faerie?’ does not admit of a simple answer. Faerie, after all, is not one land, one principality or domain. Maps of Faerie are unreliable, and may not be depended upon. We talk of Kings and Queens of Faerie as we would speak of the Kings and Queens of England. But Faerie is bigger than England, it is bigger than the world (for, since the dawn of time, each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn’t there has taken refuge in Faerie; so it is now, by the time that we come to write of it, a most huge place indeed, containing every manner of landscape and terrain.) Here, truly, there be Dragons." - Neil Gaiman

Monday, February 1, 2021

Mystery at the Lighthouse

One thing I have noticed is that people seldom think about how literature affects anime and gaming, mostly because such references to them as appear in anime and games are to literary works which are no longer in the popular mainstream. As I have stated, I avoid Science Fiction and Dark Fantasy more or less like the plague; not because I do not respect them so much as that they are simply not taste. However, the two merge with anime and gaming enough to warrant acknowledgement.

Recently I watched Mystery at the Lighthouse, the 13th episode of the original Pokémon anime (i.e. when Ash first sets out in the Kanto Region), and was again struck by its quiet majesty. In basic plot, omitting the ending so as to avoid spoilers, Ash & co. are lost but soon arrive at a lighthouse on a foggy coast where they meet its keeper, a Pokémon researcher named Bill who spends his time studying rare Pokémon. Namely, he says, one so unique and that no one had ever laid eyes on it; the last of its kind searching down the aeons for a friend. A Pokémon he learned of when he heard a strange noise coming across the ocean one night, a haunting, plaintive call echoing across the mist-shrouded sea, but that was the last time he heard it's cry. Then, in a benevolent attempt to lure the Pokémon, he broadcast a similar answering call across the ocean. Needless to say that before the episode's end the nameless Pokémon makes an appearance, wading through fog and sea to the lighthouse, its calls matching the fog horn. Of course, this was the very early days of Pokémon anime, so the writers made the mysterious Pokémon a super-sized Dragonite (it is not named so, but the outline is clear) instead of a truly unidentifiable legendary Pokémon that would later be revealed and play a role many episodes down the line, but knowing what it is does not take away from the haunting power of Mystery at the Lighthouse. A fact the writers were well aware of as the episode is purely based off acclaimed sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury's The Fog Horn short story.

At this point, dear reader, I recommend that you read this short story here is the link – before continuing, as otherwise you will face serious spoilers (worry not, for it can be read in under ten minutes). Ready or not, here we go. The Fog Horn details a lighthouse keeper who observes the arrival of a gigantic, prehistoric creature emerging from the waves each year, coming in answer to the fog horn which tricks the monster into thinking he has found another of his kind, one who acts as though the monster did not even exist. The lighthouse keeper turns off the fog horn and, in a rage, the monster destroys the lighthouse before retreating to the sea. This may sound rather pedestrian, but Bradbury's reputation is well-earned and the story hooked me by the heartstrings in a heartbeat. Hence I will say no more so as not to rob one of the chance to read it if one has not done so already. Taking 30 minutes on Netflix to watch Mystery at the Lighthouse would be order too as one will note that I did not spoil the ending. 

Having read and seen both, one will agree that Pokémon did an excellent job evoking the primal, lonely mood of The Fog Horn, particularly given that it was an anime for young children. Children like me who grew up never knowing the episode's origins because the relevant short story is no longer in the popular mainstream. I only found out by, being curious to learn more about the giant Dragonite if possible, looking up the episode on Bulbapedia and saw this in the Trivia section: "The plot of this episode was likely based on the short story The Fog Horn by Ray Bradbury, which also contributed to the creation of the Godzilla franchise. In the story, a sea monster who is the only one left of its kind, hears a fog horn that sounds similar to its own voice and it is attracted to it." (Yes, sadly I have heard of Godzilla and would like to keep my limited knowledge of it just that, limited, because my opinion monster movies and whatnot is low at best. It is interesting, though, is it not, that a franchise such as Godzilla which we all grow up hearing about whether we want to or not can maintain such mainstream fame while its progenitor, short story, is out of the limelight.) 

Seeing as I have asked you, dear reader, to read a short story and watch a 30 minute Pokémon episode, I think it only fair that I stop for now. I will speak of the games tied to literary works in a later post; and no, when I say "tied to" I do not mean in the obvious way that, say, the game Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is tied to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings

"That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die." - H.P. Lovecraft