Pre-Tolkien Fantasy Challenge

elfland

One of the often repeated refrains from the vile Cult of Resentment is that so much Fantasy is just rehashed, Tolkien fanfiction. Unfortunately, there is some truth in this, a lot of modern multi-volume fantasy is quite derivative of Middle Earth. Pale imitators lacking the poetic and moral compass of JRRT. Due to the popularity of the imitators, and the almost systematic erasure of most pre-Tolkien fantasy from the public sphere, a new reader often thinks of Middle Earth as ground zero for fantasy, myself included.

But that is starting to change, big thanks to Jeffro’s Appendix N for one, and also a revival of the pulp aesthetic by indie magazines like Cirsova and Storyhack and the many new writers affiliated with the PulpRev movement.

In order to educate, and also hopefully find some great reading material for myself, I propose a challenge to all my blogger friends.

Pre-Tolkien Short Story Challenge

  • Identify 3 Fantasy stories written before Lord of the Rings was published. 3 stories written before 1954.
  • Review all three on your blog, focusing on pre-Tolkien differences of similarities, and making sure you let us know where we can find them for ourselves.
  • Share the challenge.

I think this will be an interesting exercise. I hope a lot of people join me so I can compile a great collection of reviews that hopefully will inspire others to read older Fantasy.

PreTolkien.jpg

 

The Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb

ShipofmagicI don’t write a lot of full-length book reviews. I prefer quick updates on what I’ve read recently, short and to the point, enough to recommend and maybe spur some discussion, but not concise reviews. The only time I write longer pieces is when I come across a book that really captures my imagination, for example, last months The River of Doubt Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard, a fantastic read filled with danger and adventure rivaling any fictional account. Robin Hobb’s The Liveship Traders is a masterpiece of fantasy writing and I feel compelled to recommend it to all my friends who enjoy intelligent character driven fantasy literature.

If you know me and follow me on here you know that I believe Robin Hobb is the best Fantasy writer out there. I loved the first Farseer Trilogy, so much so that I’m listening to the audiobook version on audible with my wife. We are currently on the second book, and I’m enjoying the series in this format. But, when I finished the initial Fitz series I was a bit hesitant to go on with the Liveship Traders. It focuses on a different set of characters and unlike the Farseer books it’s written in third person with multiple point of views. I put off reading it for about two years, but when I finally started it last month I couldn’t stop. Fitz and the Farseers are fantastic, but The Liveship trilogy is the best fantasy trilogy I’ve ever read.

The massive trilogy is made up of Ship of Magic, Mad Ship, and Ship of Destiny, each shipofdestinyhefty fantasy tomes. The Liveship Traders is the saga of the Vestrits, an old Trader family from the exotic port colony of Bingtown. Bingtown Traders are the old money elite, descendants of the original founders of the city, and unique for owning mysterious living ships made out of wizardwood. Ships that are quickened by the death of three generations of family, becoming living beings that have the memories and personalities of their past captains.

The trilogy follows the Vestrits, as their family Liveship, the Vivacia becomes aware after the death of the family patriarch. His beloved daughter Althea, who grew up sailing with her father expects to inherit Vivacia but her mother and older sister instead grant Captainship to her brother-in-law Kyle, a hard man who decides to take his meek son Wintrow onboard and lead the financially burdened family into the new burgeoning slave trade.  The events and decisions set off a chain of events that have massive consequence not only for the Vestrits but for Bingtown and the whole world.

Slave traders, sea serpents, pirate captains, pirate kingdoms, jungles, ancient cities, violence, and high seas adventure. This trilogy has it all and the best portrayal of dragons as ancient hyper-intelligent alien creatures I’ve ever read in fantasy. But for all the excitement Robin Hobb’s ultimate strength and what elevates her writing above other fantasy lies in her characters. The depth of characterization and growth is unmatched in fantasy. Her characters are living, breathing, beings that are often deeply flawed yet grow and learn as the narrative advances and they fight to survive through the difficult trials of Hobb’s world.

the-mad-ship-port.jpeg

Hobb’s characterization is often so complex that characters you love at first go on to fail and disappoint while characters that begin as despicable and nasty become heroic and intriguing. The greatest example of complex characterization lies in the trilogy’s primary villain, the pirate Capitan Kennit. Hobb’s writing is so outstanding that all Kennit’s despicable behavior is plainly laid out, his vile thoughts are revealed to the reader, yet somehow you fall for his gaslighting and begin rooting for him just like the characters in the book. Kennit is one of the most complex and intriguing villains I’ve ever read and an outstanding achievement.

The Liveship Traders Trilogy is outstanding, complex, fantasy, that left me wanting more. The depth of characterization is the best I’ve read in any modern fantasy novel and while I have ten more Robin Hobb novels to read in her Realm of the Elderlings setting I’m going to predict that this trilogy will reign at the top of my list of favorites for many years to come.

 

 

 

Barbarian Book Club: The River of Doubt Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

roosveltriver

“Tell Osborn I have already lived and enjoyed as much of life as any nine other men I know; I have had my full share, and if it is necessary for me to leave my bones in South America, I am quite ready to do so.” – Theodore Roosevelt

 

Last week my coworker handed me Candice Millard’s River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. The promise of a historical account of my favorite president exploring the uncharted rivers in the Amazon was too tempting for me, so I started reading right away. I couldn’t put it down, and when I did I couldn’t wait to get back so I could find out what befell the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition on their perilous journey down the River of Doubt.

“Far from its outward appearance, the rainforest was not a garden of easy abundance, but precisely the opposite. Its quiet, shaded halls of leafy opulence were not a sanctuary but, rather, the greatest natural battlefield anywhere on the planet, hosting an unremitting and remorseless fight for survival that occupied every single one of its inhabitants, every minute of every day.” 

Depressed from the blow of losing the 1912 Presidential election and dejected from the social ostracism due to his independent “Bull Moose” party bid, Roosevelt decided to raise his spirits in the only way that he knew. Adventure. Answering an invitation to visit Argentina, Brazil, and the Amazon the former 25th President now 55 years old, made his way to South America for what was initially going to be a leisurely speaking tour followed by a  safe trip through known parts of the Amazon rainforest. cheririver

Once he reached South America, the true adventurer changed plans. Upon meeting the famous Brazilian explorer Colonel Candido Rondon, Roosevelt decided to take the expedition down the recently discovered Rio da Duvida (River of Doubt). An uncharted, unknown tributary of the massive Amazon, a river so massive that if superimposed on a map of the United States it would stretch from Bangor, Maine to San Francisco, California.

The newly christened Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition included the American Naturalist George Cherrie, a figure whose life exploits put the adventures of Indiana Jones to shame, and Roosevelt’s 24-year-old son Kermit, along with several soldiers and laborers from Rondon’s Telegraph corps. All tough men, seasoned explorers, and accomplished hunters.

The expedition would take them into the unknown. They would map and chart a river unknown to civilization and be the first Old World explorers to set foot in the unknown deepest darkness of the untamed Amazon rainforest. This kind of adventure was exactly what Roosevelt dreamed of all his life, the ability to test himself against the harshest of nature and put himself on equal footing with the worlds greatest explorers.

ontheriver

On February 27, 1914, the expedition launched their heavy loaded canoes into the unknown Amazon. Immediately the expedition faced hardship due to the poor planning and provisioning their gear was unsuitable, the canoes barely floated, and their food stores tragically insufficient.

The 19 men of the expedition endured the green hell of the rainforest, rowing down the snaking river in unsuitable boats that had to be taken out and portaged around impassable rapids. Work that was excruciating and deadly. The torrential rain poured non stop, soaking all, covering everything with mold and rusting all equipment. Sickened with Malaria and finished by their lack of rations the men withstood constant attack from the jungles millions of predatory insects. Sweat bees that drank the fluid from their eyes, flesh-eating ants, and termites that devoured their clothing off their backs, carnivorous piranas, caimans, and poisonous snakes whose venom kills in minutes. Most of all the River of Doubt was the territory of yet uncontacted tribes of Indians. Warlike cannibals that were experts of stealth and deadly with their poisoned arrows known as the Cinta Larga, Portuguese for wide belt, due to the armor made of bark the warriors wore around their abdomen.

RiverofdoubtRiver of Doubt is a fantastic read about a group of hard men in a world where the unknown and the unexplored still existed. It’s a riveting account that rivals any fantastic adventure fiction I have ever read. Rosevelt himself, a famed cowboy in the Dakotas, famous leader of the Rough Riders, Secretary of the Navy, Commissioner of the New York Police, and two time President of the United States, is almost an unbelievable character and a giant of a man. A man so tough that after enough life achievements to satisfy 100 men he decides to risk his life in the Amazon. At the age of 55, he battles nature itself, suffering from Malaria, blood poisoning, and enough physical hardship to kill men half his age. The other members or the expedition are almost as equally interesting, Rondon who goes on to become one of Brazil’s national heroes is a first-class explorer and humanist who spent his life fighting for the rights of the Amazons Indian population.

The account shines when it comes to the detailed description of the relationships the men developed. The mutual respect and admiration between Roosevelt and Rondon. The brotherly love Cherrie felt for Roosevelt. Most of all the father-son relationship between Theodore and the fascinating dark and brooding Kermit.

Candice Millard wrote a riveting account of great men on a deadly adventure and I am glad that I got the chance to ride along with Roosevelt and Rondon, imagining myself in an era where the world remained unexplored and wilderness still ruled.

 

 History Channel video on the expedition.

Barbarian Book Club: 11 June 2017

Another month of reading has come and gone. The beautiful Japanese spring is ending and the rainy season is about to begin. I managed to finish two novels, one history book, and several short stories this month. Both of my fiction reads made up the closing chapters of their respective trilogies. The upcoming June rains will keep me indoors a lot so I expect to get in a bit more this month. Madouc

Madouc by Jack Vance. The closing chapter in Vance’s wonderful Lyonesse Trilogy. A fantastic ending to a great fantasy series. Madouc ties all the threads of the previous two novels and completes the trilogy elegantly. The novel focuses on the titular character, a scraggly red- headed child who is the fairy swapped changeling mistaken for the daughter of Princess Suldrun. Madouc is such a great character that following her adventures through the forest, through Fairy steadings, and through daily life at court was a blast. The Lyonesse trilogy was amazing, a painfully overlooked and under appreciated masterpiece that really deserves to be read more. I’m going to put together a thorough review of the series in the very near future.Nanoflower

The Nano Flower by Peter Hamilton. The third and final novel in Hamiltons post-cyberpunk, near future, corporate detective series, featuring the psychic veteran Greg Mandel. First, Hamilton is my favorite Science-Fiction writer. He writes massive, mind-blowing space operas intertwined with post-cyberpunk police procedurals that I can’t get enough of. If you haven’t read the Commonwealth novels, Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained, you need to correct yourself and start them right now. The Greg Mendel files are Hamiltons first books, not nearly as polished, but full of the proto-ideas that will come to the forefront of his more ambitious novels. The Nano Flower centers around a missing husband who sends a message to his powerful corporate boss wife in the form of a flower. A flower that once analyzed is revealed to be unknown alien DNA, setting off a massive race to achieve First Contact between worldwide corporate interests. We have power suited mercenaries, massive airships, orbiting asteroid stations, artificial intelligence, and all sorts of awesome sci-fi action. SPQR.jpg

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard. If you love in-depth, exciting history, that makes you picture the events of the past. If you love reading about Ancient Rome, Republican Rome, and the Roman Empire in an eye-opening exciting way, this book is NOT for you. SPQR is a muddled, bore fest of a book, poorly written and injected with the author’s personal political views. At one point she rambles on, comparing the Pirates of the Republican era to today’s Islamic terrorism, implying that they are nothing but political boogeymen used by our leaders to justify self-serving military action. Her idiotic rant did not age well because the very same day I read that chapter the London Bridge terrorist attack occurred. Even ignoring modern day political opinion interjected without purpose, the book lacks any sort of an engaging narrative. It jumps around without rhyme or reason, focuses on trivial matters while ignoring critical events. For example, Trajan’s war with the Dacians gets about one line of text. More space is dedicated to an irrelevant discussion on the spelling of Boudica. Do yourself a favor and skip this historical turd. Download Dan Savage’s podcast The Death Throes of the Republic. The first 15 minutes of his podcast is more vivid and enlightening than all 600 pages of SPQR.

 

Book Reviews: I’m over it.

boring

After giving it some thought I have decided to quit writing book reviews on here. I’m just not into them. I spend too much time thinking about what to write and how to put it down. Time that I should spend writing. So no more single post book reviews.

First of all, I don’t want to be a critic. I have no desire to review ARC’s or discuss books from an objective standpoint. I only read what I want and usually, quit books that annoy me right away. I also have  unique taste and tend to disagree with popular fandom.

I write fiction. My ultimate goal is to become a published author. I find it in bad taste to publically critique other writers in the same genres I write. I don’t mind saying that I didn’t like this or that, but going into detailed negative reviews rubs me the wrong way. It’s a conflict of interest that I don’t need.

Finally book report style, non-spoiler reviews are everywhere. Awesome blogs all over the damn place filled with every kind of review by people that actually like writing reviews. There is no point in me wasting time.

So instead I’m going to do posts about what I am reading and what I think about it. If I come across a fantastic book I will mention it. The whole thing will be casual.