Why write weak characters? To see them become strong people.
Last month after watching The White Queen I questioned the compliment “you write strong female characters,” by saying there’s no good reason to write a weak female character. Weak female characters, or passive ones, are simply not as interesting as strong characters of either sex. There’s no compelling reason to write a character who’s boring, at least not in a fantasy or historical adventure. Even a weak side character can just use up valuable space. “Every character should want something, even if it is just a glass of water.”
I’ve now found an exception to this. A weak main character can be quite interesting because, of course, characters need to change.
Disclosure: I consider Laurie Forest a colleague. We both write epic fantasy and live in a small state with an active writing community. I have not received any material support from her, encouragement, or endorsement to write this review. I paid full price for my signed copy.
Elloren Gardner lives in a diverse magical world, but for many reasons, her uncle has sheltered her on his farm since she was a small child. She is the granddaughter of The Black Witch, a legendary sorceress who is regarded as a patriot and freedom fighter for her people, who all achieve some level of magical ability. Elloren’s curse is that despite her striking resemblance to her grandmother, her only magical ability is to find peace, comfort, and psychological communion with bits of wood. She’s a great violinist, but can’t even light a candle, and wouldn’t be allowed a wand. Continue reading “The Black Witch (Goodreads Review)”→
In which I alienate the people most likely to buy my book.
Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors, and The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favorite books, so I was pretty excited when I heard Hulu was adapting it into a series. Of course, I also had my trepidation. I don’t care much whether an adaptation fails or succeeds, but my expectations for adaptations these days are pretty low. Nevertheless it’s nice to see such an excellent book advertised and interpreted. I watched the first episode last night and found myself thinking I would rather be re-reading the book. If you were confused or disappointed by the episodes you’ve seen, read the book.
People all have their own reasons for loving or hating Jacqueline Carey’s books, but they all agree she is a great writer.
It’s no secret that Jacqueline Carey is one of my favorite writers, and if you’ve read any of her work it should be clear why. The skill with which she crafts her work is evident from the very first word, and even when she’s writing stuff that I can’t stand to read (like her Agents of Hel series), I still acknowledge she’s doing it better than almost anyone else. She’s most well-known for her Kushiel books, set in Europe with an alternate history where Christianity never really took off, but an early offshoot of it took off like crazy. Continue reading “Miranda, Caliban, and Jacqueline Carey”→
Why am I stuck reading this book from the eighties?
This past weekend I went to Boskone and came back with a bunch of used paperbacks and two new books. The book I went in looking for, Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn was not available anywhere, but luckily I’d already ordered it from interlibrary loan. My librarian actually told me not to buy it for $1 at the convention because it was costing her three bucks to send back, so she wanted me to get her money’s worth. I have sought out Melanie Rawn on and off for a few years, but particularly recently because I have had this urge to read “eighties fantasy” that doesn’t suck and I was having trouble. I don’t know why I didn’t learn my lesson: I’ve read plenty of stuff from the eighties and much of it has one or all of three problems:
In which I alienate readers by mentioning a good movie’s Big But…
I saw Rogue One last night, and it was great. I was surprised by how seriously it treated the story, and by the father-daughter connection. The ambiguity of the characters and their motives was very satisfying to watch: almost every one had conflicting motives and could have made a decision either way at every point. There were definitely good guys and bad guys, but the way they accomplished their goals was highly ambiguous and provoked a lot of moral questions. The acting was fantastic, and the production design was really cool. There were at least two very cosmopolitan cities that didn’t have the artificial sheen of Coruscant in the prequels. And of course, there were familiar characters, especially imperial characters, that I didn’t expect to see.
They broke with the typical elements that we’ve come to expect from “Star Wars movies.” There was no crawler at the beginning, there were titles announcing the locations, and there were lots of new sorts of droids, troopers, and imperial officers and ships. The music was not John Williams, but it was satisfactory. It was loud, and distracting at some points, but the whole movie was loud and full of action. If you haven’t seen it, go and see it, and enjoy it. I really enjoyed it, BUT
What does Sauron really mean for Middle Earth? What does Voldemort want?
I was browsing the Youtube Channel Write About Dragons the other day, and came across Brandon Sanderson discussing villains. At the beginning of the discussion he mentions a problem that has plagued me since I was a child, and more as I’ve read fantasy as an adult: what do villains want? It’s easy to understand villains with short-term motivation, like robbing a bank and flying to Venezuela, or getting revenge, but what’s hard to understand are creatures like Sauron, Robert Jordan’s Dark One, and Emperor Palpatine. Jordan actually deals with this question in the later Wheel of Time books, and especially (in collaboration with Sanderson) in the final showdown between Rand and The Dark One. Palpatine is easy to understand as a dictator, who uses political power as a cover for making himself a kind of living god. The problem does remain: what does a wrinkled old man want? Food? Sex? Yuck. What could Sauron possibly be going for when he doesn’t even have a body other than the power to gloat and watch Hobbits suffer? Continue reading “In Defense of Villains”→
Is fantasy still just for nerds? Why is the fantasy genre so popular?
Fantasy fiction has evolved considerably over the past twenty years. Most of the time when I read sentences like that I am extraordinarily skeptical, but this is an area where I have a certain amount of confidence. I’ve always kept an eye on fantasy literature, always found it interesting, but I’ve had trouble finding books that I really enjoyed until the last decade or so. Since the huge success of the Harry Potter books and films, and Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (and the bloody Hobbit), the genre has changed a lot. Some of the stuff that’s available now is even too serious for many readers.
The genre started to change even before that, however. Serious works, like Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun were there, but they were hard to find. George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire would have been written even if the LOTR films hadn’t been so successful, but I doubt it would have been made into a successful TV show that people talk about on the bus. There’s a lot of speculation on why, particularly in the rise of Grimdark fantasy, but last week I came up with a funny little speculative theory, that I call the Renaissance Faire Theory of Fantasy Literature Evolution. Plant your tongue in your cheek if you plan to keep reading.
Books and movies fundamentally different, so I don’t have high hopes for the projected TV series
When I was fifteen the most significant and philosophically deep things in the world were Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s opera Einstein on the Beach and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy “trilogy.” The Hitchhiker series was the first book series I read that really made me question my view of reality, which at the time was highly scientific, and the books helped me make room for something that if not spiritual was at least highly skeptical of a one-sided view of existence. And it was funny as hell. By the time I got to reading So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, Adams’ books had touched me very deeply and I carried them around with me, knowing that they’d taught me something special. The final validation of that would be seeing my vision of the series on a big screen. I had a title, first scene, opening credits, and many other scenes all mapped out in my daydreaming head. I had seen the television show but the movie in my head was perfect in its own way, so much better than anything anyone else could come up with. If only I could have gotten someone in Hollywood interested…