Monthly Archives: August 2014

Texas and The Road to Wellville: A Problem with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge?

I’ve currently finished six books in my historical fiction reading challenge. I’m worried. So far, things are not looking well. 

The Road to Wellville while a well written novel did not appeal to me in the least. T.C. Boyle is a good writer, but his style is not something I’m fond of. 

Texas by James Michener has a very solid structure. But is, unfortunately, boring. Especially with the narrative frame. 

As things stand, the only book I really like is Romance of the Three Kingdoms with Gentlemen of the Road being likeable but disappointing. The rest? Not good. 

I don’t blame the texts. The fault lies with me. I didn’t think the historical fiction reading challenge through.

For one thing, do I really have the time to finish, if not closely read, all twenty texts? Plus everything else I need to read? No. I let my ambitions get the best of me, again. And, like always, I bit off more than I can chew. Especially when I’m in a research kick. 

For another thing, I don’t think I conceived the idea very well. My contention is that I prefer history writing to historical fiction. So why am I just reading historical fiction? Shouldn’t I have formulated this plan as a comparison? History vs. fiction based on that history. 

I don’t know what I’m going to do. For now, I’m going to cut back on the challenge (the last two books will be Hild and The Long Ships as they are currently on their way). My attention, for the foreseeable future, will be on research. 

Whether or not this witnesses the premature end of the historical fiction reading challenge is up in the air. I may drop the project. Or I may return to it when I have the time. 

George R.R. Martin and Homoerotic Inclusion

At the Edinburgh International Book Festival, George R.R. Martin, author of A Song of Ice and Fire, was asked the question: Why doesn’t he include gay male sex scenes? His answer is problematic in several ways.

The third person limited point of view style that Martin favors does limit the available scenes he can write. Especially when all of those main point of view characters are straight. Or largely straight in the cases of Dany and Cersie. 

But why are there no male point of view characters that engage in same sex activity? 

Martin claims that, “If the plot lends itself to that, if one of my viewpoint characters is in a situation,  then I’m not going to shy away from it, but you can’t just insert things because everyone wants to see them.” This is where I have a problem with Martin’s answer. The inclusion of gay and bisexual characters, of characters of color, of women, or of what have you should not be determined by the needs of the plot. So often, this argument is made by readers, intentionally homophobic or not, to prevent gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered characters from appearing. 

Is Jon Snow’s heterosexuality intrinsic to his character? To his story? What about Dany? Are her lesbian sex scenes essential to the narrative?

Do I think George R.R. Martin will include a gay male sex scene? Maybe if he creates a gay or bisexual male point of view character. But will he create such a character? I don’t know. He’s got two books left. I seriously doubt it. 

Martin is right that, “it isn’t a democracy.” A Song of Ice and Fire is Martin’s baby. He is the absolute dictator. He is the god of that creation. Whether he wants to write a gay or bisexual male character’s point of view is up to him. 

Honestly, I find Martin’s answer disingenuous. It gives, I think, false hope that Martin may create a gay or bisexual male character. He hasn’t yet. What makes anyone think that such a character/ scene will become “relevant” to the plot?


How Much of a Chance? The Luminaries

When I formulated the list for my historical fiction reading challenge, I wanted an equal balance of men and women writers, diverse temporal settings, and myriad styles/ genres. I felt I had (largely) achieved that, but I knew that some of my choices might not be friendly to my taste. 

And I was right about that. 

The Luminaries is the second novel by Eleanor Catton. It has been highly praised. It won the freaking Man Booker Prize. That is why I chose it for the historical fiction reading challenge. And I didn’t even make it eight pages. 

You would think a novel about gold mining turned mystery in Victorian New Zealand would be interesting. But there is only one mystery that needed to be solved. 

Where the hell was the editor? 

I didn’t read enough of the novel to give even a decent review. Rather, how much of a chance should I give a novel? Ten pages? Fifty? I’ll know when I read it?

This is a very malleable subject. I don’t have a hard and fast rule. I just come to a point and have no interest in continuing. The novel just doesn’t capture my attention. Do I owe it to the author to continue on if I have no interest?

Some would argue yes. I have a duty to finish a text. But, I argue back, there are so many other books on my reading list that I shouldn’t be bound to finishing a book that bores me or (worse) pisses me off.

So far in my historical fiction reading challenge, I am 1-1-1. How would I rate The Luminaries? A definite loss: 1-1-2. 

Next time on the historical fiction reading challenge: Wellville by T.C. Boyle.


Babylon 5 to be Rebooted?

It is being reported that Babylon 5 is going to be rebooted as a film franchise. Apparently, J. Michael Stracynski, the creator of Babylon 5, announced at Comic Con that he is in the planning stages of a reboot of the franchise as feature films. I look forward to these plans bearing fruit. 

I love Babylon 5. It is a damn shame that the series has fallen off the radar. And it is frustrating that attempts to revive the series have met with repeated failure to date. 

Perhaps it is time to move in a new direction. And maybe a reboot is what is required. 

Babylon 5 is one of the pioneers of the televised novel and the usage of CGI. The series is absolutely amazing. But the side stories always felt, to me, weaker efforts. 

The cinematic reboot, in order to be successful, must focus on the core story of Babylon 5Babylon 5 is the story of the struggle for the last, best hope for peace in the most unlikely of places. 

I have faith that JMS knows what he is doing. And I’m sure the naysayers will be eating crow. 

Teen Titans: Now I Understand

I’m reading the classic Wolfman and Perez run on The New Teen Titans at the moment. Oh my. This is some great stuff. Even with some of the ’80s style of comic book writing that I find annoying, I am really enjoying this. Now, I understand the anger over the New 52 volumes of Teen Titans. I get because I’m, surprisingly, angry. 

I’m amazed how much story Wolfman and Perez pack into every issue. And the end result isn’t cluttered. The narrative is innovative and willing to tackle some hard issues. The storytelling is wondrous with gripping plots that very rarely falter. 

That’s not to say that New Teen Titans is perfect. There are  issues with characterization that I find troublesome (but I chalk that up to the comic books of that era having a far starker view of good and bad than the modern era). The growth of Cyborg, Beast Boy/ Changeling, and Kid Flash are remarkably well done throughout these issues. But I’m not sure the same can be said for Raven or Starfire. Yes, they too grow as the series progresses. But they are such extremes that it is hard to reconcile them to the median morality. I’m especially not fond of Starfire’s character. She, honestly, should have a far harsher character than she is presented as having. She was a slave for six years after all. . . 

Regardless, New Teen Titans is an amazing comic book. And probably would be far more amazing if I had read the series when I was younger. 

I understand, now, why many fans of the Teen Titans wish for a return to the series’s golden age. Especially when the vagaries of comic books are taken into account. 

The transition of DC to the New 52 is still controversial, even three years later. Could DC have carried on without the reboot? I think it could have, but the decision was made to wipe the slate clean. What is done is done, for good or bad.

The New 52 has been incredibly hit or miss. Some comic books carry on as if nothing happened (Green Lantern), some comic books have been reinvigorated (Wonder Woman, Swamp ThingAquaman,etc.), and some have been effectively ruined (Teen Titans). 

The New 52 iteration of The Teen Titans is, from the three volumes I’ve read, a confused mess. There is a good idea within the series, but the execution is haphazard. Part of the blame must rest with the writer, but part of the blame must also rest with the editors. 

Will The Teen Titans reach the heights it achieved under Wolfman and Perez or Johns again? Maybe if a really good writer pitches one hell of proposal. 


The Tragedy of (CLAMP’s) X

The Earth’s fate, whether it lives or dies, rests on the choices of an asshole. Will Kamui Shiro, the protagonist, become a Dragon of Heaven, fighting to defend the world as it is, or a Dragon of Earth, fighting to change the world (by purging humanity)? Joining him are twelve other superhumans fated to take part in the end of the world by either defending or destroying Tokyo. So is the main narrative of X, CLAMP’s tragic unfinished manga. 

Like Cardcaptor Sakurais a great manga. Indeed, I freaking love this series. There is a maturity and depth to the series that is, honestly, often lacking in other manga series. And there is a disturbing amount of gore, which ultimately proved the series’s downfall (in terms of publication).

What I find most interesting about the series, honestly, is how the apocalyptic forms the backdrop to the various human tragedies that befall both the protagonists and antagonists. Especially Kamui Shiro, the main protagonist who is, initially, a jerk. 

Until the tragic turn, Kamui is an uncooperative asshole. He is fighting his destiny and the attempts of his friends, both old and new, to (re)connect. He gradually begins to open up again and care about his loved ones. And then he makes the fateful choice to defend the world as it is.

Is Kamui truly an asshole in those early volumes or is he putting on an act? Is he trying to save his friends by pushing them away? 

The evidence points to an act. He does open up to his friends before making his choice. After the decision, he becomes positively passive. Indeed, as the arguably most powerful member of the Dragons of Heaven, he is cripplingly weak in fulfilling his mission. 

Has the trauma of his decision shattered his confidence, along with his unwillingness to attack Fuma? Or has some of Kamui’s darker personality traits been transferred to Fuma, the Kamui of the Dragons of Earth? 

Is the change in Kamui’s character a good thing or a bad thing? Would the series have been better or worse if Kamui kept some of his asshole character? 

Personally, I rather liked Kamui better earlier in the series. He is, I think, more interesting. He’s okay after the choice, but I find myself annoyed with him on numerous occasions. 

Kamui, however, isn’t the only character to let his personal drama detrimentally affect his mission as a Dragon of Heaven. Subaru Sumeragi, the main protagonist of the earlier Tokyo Babylon, has never recovered from the tragedy that befell him. He does manage to pull himself together enough to pull Kamui out of his catatonia, but his final confrontation with Seiishiro shatters whatever drive he still has left. 

Not even the erstwhile antagonists are free from drama. Kanoe, the benefactor of the Dragons of Earth, wishes to save her sister, Hinoto (the prophetic benefactor of the Dragons of Heaven), from her destiny as an oracle. Nataku, an adrogynous artificial human, sacrifices hir life to save a Dragon of Heaven from Fuma/ Kamui, thereby enacting a twisted family drama. 

Honestly, Heaven and Earth should be asking for refunds. In the end, it is human desire, so often self destructive, that will decide humanity’s (and the world’s) fate. Therein lies the triumph and tragedy of X

Gentlemen of the Road

Gentlemen of the Road is the third novel in my historical fiction reading challenge. And honestly, I don’t know how I feel about it.

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon tells the tale of how two Jewish bandits, the Frankish Zelikman and the Abyssinian Amram, become tangled in the internal politics of the Khazars after they are caught out during a scam.

On the whole, the novel is a wonderfully written historical yarn. It is, perhaps, an example of what all historical adventure novels aspire to be. As a Michael Chabon novel, however, Gentlemen of the Road leaves much to be desired.

While the characterization of Amram and Zelikman are well executed, one is hard pressed to see how, exactly, they are unique. Isn’t it almost a given that all protagonists in this genre are rogues and bandits with similar characteristics? And isn’t this type of plot not uncommon?

(In fact, I’m glad I’m not reading T.C. Boyle’s Water Music for this challenge because, honestly, I remember that book having a very similar feel. The plots are completely different, but still. . .)

The novel is great and enjoyable. But I can’t help finding the novel dull and boring at the same time. Being a Michael Chabon novel, I expect something more.

I have some familiarity with Michael Chabon’s work. I have read The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and enjoyed both books immensely. They have a depth and power that, honestly, Gentlemen of the Road simply lacks.

It is almost as if Chabon ticked off the genre requirements without adding anything really new or deep to the mix.

Which is a shame even if the novel is highly readable.

So, where does this leave me on my historical fiction challenge score sheet? Three books in, I’ll have to say things are 1-1-1.

Next time, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.