A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay

The sailors say the rain misses the cloud even as it falls through light or dark into the sea. I miss her like that as I fall through my life, through time, the chaos of our time. I dream of her some nights, still, but there is nothing to give weight or value to that, it is only me, and what I want to be true. It is only longing.

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay

I discovered Guy Gavriel Kay several years ago when I returned to Fantasy. Originally I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire but quickly became burned out on the nihilism and onslaught of negativity in those books. Yes, the world is dark and often people are cruel, and nasty. But the world is also beautiful and people can be surprisingly selfless, heroic, and noble. More often than not people can be both cruel and selfless, both heroic and nasty.

After almost giving up on Fantasy because I didn’t want to read nihilistic grimdark or the bloated door stoppers focused on magical power systems, I stumbled on Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana and fell in love with Fantasy all over again. Here was a modern writer that wrote beautiful literary fantasy with a depth of emotion not found anywhere else.

Kay’s novels are poetically written historical fantasies. Worlds and characters in fantasy worlds slightly different but recognizable. His poetic writing and focus on theme over plot give his novels an almost impressionistic feel, full of sorrowful and nostalgic moods invoking a hazy watercolor like experience.

Some of his past novels that I consider some of my personal favorite, are The Lions of Al-Rassan and A Song for Arbonne. The first takes place in a fantasy version of Andalusia during the Reconquista. Lions is as story about war, love, friendship, and loyalty, in a world that is ceasing to exist. The latter, and my favorite, is set in a Fantasy version of south-western France somewhat inspired by the Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade. A mercenary from the north becomes involved in a web of war and politics involving the Troubadour culture of the Arabonne’s Court of Love.

I read a lot of Kay’s novels but my interest in his work began to taper once he switched his focus away from European inspired work and began writing several novels based on Chinese Dynasties, a historical subject I don’t have much interest in. But, randomly I came across news that he was about to release a new work, a novel set in a Fantasy version of Renaissance Italy, which has been my historical obsession for the past year. I pre-ordered right away.

A Brightness Long Ago might be my Kay’s best novel to date. A thematically complex work focused on memory and the intersection of choice and fate. Our main character is Guidanio Cerra, a well educated son of a tailor now a powerful member of Seressa’s(Fantasy Venice) ruling council. He mournfully recalls his youth where his life crossed paths with two powerful feuding Condottiere Folco d’Acrosi and Teobaldo Monticola di Remigio, and the fateful events surrounding their final confrontation.

Guidanio’s recollections are written in conversational first person and filled with his philosophical and religious musings on memory, love, fate, and will. But other characters and sections are written in third person, giving us a complex and satisfying view of the personalities populating this world.

The beauty of this novel is not in the plot, which is painted with broad strokes, but in the interconnected depth of characters and in the theme of fate and choice. Several times in the novel minor characters make small, seemingly inconsequential choices that turn out to have life changing consequences in later chapters.

What I personally loved is the lack of linear logic in the chain of events. Sometimes things just happen. People just die. People get sick. People make irrational decisions that lead to catastrophic results. Sometimes your favorite loses the race and you go home. Sometimes the heroes don’t answer the call. Sometimes you luck out and win. Maybe the person you randomly meet is ends up being the love of your life, or maybe not, and you quickly forget each other.

As humans we tend to think of our lives, the past, history, as a logical linear progression and our brains invent a connected narrative. But, real life isn’t like that, the narrative is always tacked on with hindsight. The future is hard to predict due to the vagaries of fate and choice. A Brightness Long Ago captures this like no novel I’ve read before. For the first time in awhile I was actually surprised at some of the events without it feeling contrived.

The setting is beautiful and full of depth and the characters, from the major players to the minor ones that only stay with you for a few paragraphs are perfectly written. Connoisseurs of Italian Renaissance history will recognize Kay’s fantasy stand ins for the city-states, the mercenaries, the Medici, the Popes, and numerous other Renaissance personalities like Michelangelo. The world has a magical quality but also feels real and more complex than fantasy worlds developed over numerous novels.

A Brightness Long Ago is a fantastic, beautiful, and elegant novel. The perfect mix of literary and fantastic writing. A novel that goes beyond plot, exploring complex theme, yet doesn’t sacrifice character, adventure, and magic. I have a feeling it stay at the top of my favorites for a long time.

Pre-Tolkien Challenge: The Sword of Welleran

PreTolkien

I decided to start the challenge by going back to the beginning of the 20th century by reading Lord Dunsany’s The Sword of Welleran. Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, is considered by many the father of modern fantasy and credited as a major influence by Lovecraft, Tolkien, Howard, and even contemporary writers like Neil Gaiman.Dunsaney

The Sword of Welleran is his most popular short story and hands down one of the best, if not the best fantasy short stories I have ever read. These past two weeks I went back and re-read it several times and even listened to an audio version. Lovecraft said that Dunsany was the greatest prose writer of the day, after reading this story I agree.

The Sword of Welleran is about a magnificent city, a city of pure beauty, the city of Merimna.

I have never seen a city in the world so beautiful as Merimna seemed to me when first I dreamed of it. It was a marvel of spires and figures of bronze, and marble fountains, and trophies of fabulous wars, and broad streets given over wholly to the Beautiful. Right through the centre of the city there went an avenue fifty strides in width, and along each side of it stood likenesses in bronze of the Kings of all the countries that the people of Merimna had ever known.

It was a proud city built by war and protected by its ferocious and honorable heroes, Welleran, Soorenard, Mommolek, Rollory, Akanax, and young Iraine. Heroes that now are long dead and the current inhabitants have become ignorant about the art of war. They wonder the magnificent streets dreaming about the ancient ways, dressed like the warriors of the past, but in fear of the outside world.

But there was one young boy,

He was five years old, and they stood before the great glass casket wherein lay the sword of Welleran, and his mother said: “The sword of Welleran.” And Rold said: “What should a man do with the sword of Welleran?” And his mother answered: “Men look at the sword and remember Welleran.” And they went on and stood before the great red cloak of Welleran, and the child said: “Why did Welleran wear this great red cloak?” And his mother answered: “It was the way of Welleran.”

He dreamt of Welleran and the heroes, and he dreamt of a time when men were brave and defended Merimna.

Outside the city walls, the old enemies congregated, they began to realize that the heroes were gone, that no real men lived in Merimna that could stand up to their hordes. So they came, they came in the night.

Then the sun set, and it was the hour when the bats and the dark creatures are abroad and the lions come down from their lairs, and the desert robbers go into the plains again, and fevers rise up winged and hot out of chill marshes, and it was the hour when safety leaves the thrones of Kings, the hour when dynasties change.

Check out that line, wow, it sent chills down my spine. The short story ends in with a magnificent and moving climax that left me feeling completely inadequate about my writing.

But most of all it made me think about heroism, honor, duty, home, country, and family. This short, 10,000-word story moved me. Published in 1908 yet completely applicable today. Merimna, a beautiful culture built by honorable strong men whos descendants enjoy its glory but have forgotten how to lift a sword in her defense from the hordes of barbarians outside ready to plunder.

The theme of a magnificent martial civilization in decline is all over Tolkiens work. Gondor is Merimna, and the theme of having to embrace the violence a hero abhors to protect your home.

At the end of Welleran you have this amazing line, one of the greatest in all fantasy literature:

And Rold said: “O sword, sword! How horrible thou art! Thou art a terrible thing to have come among men. How many eyes shall look upon gardens no more because of thee? How many fields must go empty that might have been fair with cottages, white cottages with children all about them? How many valleys must go desolate that might have nursed warm hamlets, because thou hast slain long since the men that might have built them? I hear the wind crying against thee, thou sword! It comes from the empty valleys. It comes over the bare fields. There are children’s voices in it. They were never born. Death brings an end to crying for those that had life once, but these must cry for ever. O sword! sword! why did the gods send thee among men?” And the tears of Rold fell down upon the proud sword but could not wash it clean.

This line is echoed years later in Lord of the Rings, spoken by Faramir:

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

I honestly came to the challenge and expected to read a few fun stories, sword and sorcery types. Instead, I read Dunsany and everything I thought I knew about fantasy was demolished. I’ve spent the last two weeks devouring his work and won’t stop until I’m done with everything I can find. Reading modern fantasy without going back to Dunsany is like eating just a bit of frosting and some sprinkles instead of the whole magnificent piece of cake.

So, stop what you are doing, put on some headphones, turn some music on, and read Sword of Welleran.

But I’m warning you, once you dive into greatness modern junk becomes unbearable. Trying to read shit like Crapfuss after Dunsany will feel like a teenager listening to Britney Spears after discovering The Ramones.

 

Pre-Tolkien Fantasy Challange Roundup: Part II

PreTolkien

We are on week three of the Pre-Tolkien Challenge and the whole adventure has been very successful. A lot of great people have joined up and written about their favorite fantasy work from a great era of fiction. Check some of it here in the Pre-Tolkien Challenge Roundup: Part I.

Reading the classics of Fantasy and Science Fiction, writing about the great stories and great authors, and having good discussions is critical now more than ever. The relentless Cult of Resentment is constantly attacking every single pillar of our civilization and culture. Today the festering anal fissure of science fiction and fantasy Tor.com vomited another “problematic” book burning screed where the author flat out said that Lovecraft should never be recommended and that Tolkien makes him uncomfortable. Read the garbage here.

Of course once you look deeper you realize that the writer of the piece is a fantasy author himself. A creepy, balding, gummy creep with a pedoface like no other. He shits on the classics, shits on Tolkien and then hustles creepy cheap Narnia ripoff YA. Described by Kirkus “paid” reviews as “Madeline is white and blonde, Jason is Chinese-American, and their culturally diverse friend group in the Sunlit Lands includes an Apsáalooke and a Native Hawaiian boy. For Narnia fans who enjoy heavy snark, this is a must-read.”Check that part out Narnia fans who enjoy heavy SNARK. 

These two bit poverty pimp hustlers want to memory-hole and destroy the greats of our genre and replace their work with their own cheap soulless garbage. This example being Tor.com is appropriate, after all, Tor is the home of John Scalzi, the scribe of resentment who made a career rewriting Hadelman, Heinlein, Herbert, and Piper, but snarky. Fuck snarky. Nobody likes snarky. The snarky teenage girl trope was invented by pedo 80s movie writers. It isn’t real except maybe in the damaged mind of former child actors.

So, yes fellow pulp warriors. This isn’t just a fun exercise where we blog about our favorite stories. This is us taking the field against enemies that hate everything we love.

So, without further commentary, check out these posts:

Once again, these posts are awesome. I’m sure I’ve missed a few, so I will go through all my Twitter mentions and comments, and I have a few more of my own pending. Lets keep the conversation going. Lets talk about what made the old pulps and the old writers great. Because if we don’t we cede the ground to people like the Tor crowd who are hell bent on tearing down and destroying.

 

Pre-Tolkien Fantasy Challenge Roundup: Part I

PreTolkien

The Pre-Tolkien Challenge got started two days ago and there’s already been a great response. Some great conversation across blogs and on twitter. Exactly what I was looking for. Creating an interlinked community of like-minded people sharing our love for classic fantasy and discussing what made the old works fantastic and how to apply it to new fiction, is exactly what our community needs. Keep the posts coming and keep the discussion floating.

The Challenge

Completed Challenge:

Things I Like

Paul Lucas

Jeffro Johnson

Jon Mollison: Algernon Blackwood

Adventures Fantastic: William Morris 

Eldritch Paths: Clark Ashton Smith

Participants Taking up the Sword:

Adventures Fantastic

Jon Mollison

Woelf Dietrich

Fletcher A. Vredenburgh

Jeffro goes hard and opens up some great discussion on Tolkien being a man of his time, and comparing him to the more authentic and pure writing of Lord Dunsany. You’re going to have to follow the Twitter for that conversation if you are interested.

Keep them coming, and share this post and the challenge so we can get a lot of reviews. Let me know if I missed anyone and when you do complete your reviews tag me so I can compile.

 

The Cultural War or how I got a ban on r/Fantasy

For the most part, I tend to stay out of the culture wars. I just don’t have the patience to deal with whiny liberals, bowtie conservatives, and everything in between. I’m also not a gamer, a comic guy, or anime fan. I read what I like and what I want. I have no interest in making anyone read the stuff I’m into and I don’t really care about the new trends in SFF or literary fiction.

bran castle

But, this week I got myself a 28-day ban from the Reddit Fantasy board. I’ve been a reader and poster on r/fantasy since about 2010. It’s a great board, and due to the posts and discussions on there, I’ve come across some great Fantasy fiction. Mark Lawrence, Robin Hobb, Louis Bujold, and Guy Gavriel Kay were some of the writers I discovered thanks to that board.

Sadly, the place has become the personal fiefdom of the moderators and some of their pet sublist writers like Krista Ball, a hard left ideologue. They allow her to shut down any discussion or debate that disagrees with their core beliefs, which of course are far left progressive stances on everything. Just looking through her twitter and some of her past Reddit posts makes my point clear. You will see her shutting down discussions, insulting readers, derailing debate, and of course all in the wake of comments deleted by the mods.

Two days ago she posted a thread outlining the tweets from writer N. K. Jemisin, blaming the lack of PoC SFF writers on bigoted editors choosing mediocre “Europe-Based Fantasy” over their non-Western offerings. The post is here, some interesting back and forth.

Highlights:

Every time I see another mediocre Europe-based fantasy, I think of how many brilliant non-European fantasies got rejected to make room for it.

The genre is impoverished because we listen to mediocre bigots. We are all stupider for listening to people like this. STOP listening to people like this.

SFF shouldn’t listen to mediocre bigots. That just shouldn’t be a thing. But because we do privilege the voices of mediocre people — mostly white dudes, but some white women — they have an effect. The editor who rejects brilliant non-Euro fantasy has been listening to them.

 

N.K. Jemisin is a multiple Hugo and Nebula winner, who is also a racist ideologue who considers anyone who doesn’t kowtow to her boringly dull fiction(not my thing, it’s written in unreadable 2nd person present tense) must be a racist bigot. Check out her awesome twitter, it’s all liberal resentment.

Honestly, I could give two fucks about Jemisin and the rest of the liberal racists. Most of the time they are just busy fighting each other over how woke they are or what pronouns to use on each other this week. Yet, something about this post irritated me. The idea that traditional European fantasy is mediocre and only gets published because the publishers are racists and so are the low cultured readers.

You can unpack those preposterous comments and debate for days, the threads on Reddit have some pretty good back and forth. I’m just personally sick of shaking any social media rock and finding some snaking complaining about how dull and boring Eurocentric fantasy is, and how advanced and woke they are because they read a novella set in a pseudo-African setting.

So, sitting at work eating breakfast I spat out this quick post, I Love Medieval Eurocentric Fantasy!

I love Medieval Eurocentric Fantasy.

While I enjoy a lot of variety in my reading my go-to for fantasy and history is the old fashioned eurocentric stuff.

The N.K. Jemisin post is a great illustration of the negativity thrown towards my favorite type of fantasy. Seems like the stuff I like is a dirty word, or synonymous with racism, or bigotry.

I even love chosen farmboys, aloof elves, surly dwarfs, and funny hat wizards.So here it goes man.. I love castles, Knights, kings and queens, princess and princes, witches, warlocks, and dragons. I love taverns on the side of a road and quaint inns where adventurers gather.

I love LotR, WoT, Lyonesse, Broken Empire, The Witcher, Realm of the Elderlings, and all old and new eurocentric fantasy.

Maybe I’m just mediocre and like mediocre tastes but I’m ok with that.

So for all the writers that love the above, keep writing it, I’ll keep buying it.

I triggered a fucking hornet’s nest of resentment. I watched the post and the upvotes went up and down every second, back and forth. It spawned another thread, right here. Then I got banned..

You have been temporarily banned from participating in r/Fantasy. This ban will last for 28 days. You can still view and subscribe to r/Fantasy, but you won’t be able to post or comment.

If you have a question regarding your ban, you can contact the moderator team for r/Fantasy by replying to this message.

Reminder from the Reddit staff: If you use another account to circumvent this subreddit ban, that will be considered a violation of

the Content Policy and can result in your account being suspended from the site as a whole.

The primary rule of r/fantasy, which we’ve spoken to you about before, is to be kind. Included in this is being respectful to others and not picking fights with users.

I’m not sure how many times I can possibly explain that it’s not your opinions that’s the issue, it’s the way your express them.

So basically my above post.. is an improper way to express my opinions. If you have no life you can go through the thread and see that none of my posts are rude, combative, or even mean-spirited. Most of the replies to my thread are in fact rude or derail the conversation. But, what the fuck do I know? My expression is mean or something.

lamia

 

Either way, I stand by my original statement. I love Eurocentric Fantasy. That’s what I like, that’s what I like to read, and that’s what I will continue to pay money for.

So why am I irritated by this to even make a post? I can hear you guys already saying, “fuck Reddit, it sucks anyways.”  That’s the standard conservative reply to these issues. “Fuck Hollywood let the liberals have it, fuck music let the liberals have it, fuck Universities let the liberals have it,” over and over and on and on until progressive far left liberalism dominates our entire cultural landscape.

The reason I’m irritated is because r/fantasy has 374k subscribers. At any given time, there are about 1k readers online. I know that all of them aren’t culture warriors so I’m not going to let a bunch of ideologue moderators silence me. I’m no longer going to keep my opinions silent. I’m going, to be honest, and unapologetically stand up for what I love and what I enjoy.

I love Eurocentric Fantasy and Science Fiction, from Jules Verne through I Robert Jordan I love it all. I love Conan, Bilbo, Frodo, Rand’al Thor, Fitzchivalry, Sauron, and all the other characters that grace the browned pages of my favorite books. I love castles and keeps, roadside taverns, kings and queens, princes and princesses. I love dark forests, deep dungeons, aloof elves, industrious dwarves, and beastly orcs. From chosen farmboys to dark lords, keep writing it and I will keep reading.