I’m late on this post. I intended on going to Golden’s Book Exchange the first week of March and picking up some books on sale. But circumstances prevented me from going. I’m hoping I can go in June (or earlier). We will see.
Anyway. While I did not go to Golden’s, I did accumulate quite a few books from Amazon and Alibris over the past few months.
Here they are.
From Alibris, I bought:
Brad by Ken Smith
The Black Halo by Sam Sykes
The Skybound Sea again by Sam Sykes
The Third God by Ricardo Pinto
Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Hawkmoon by Michael Moorcock (an omnibus edition including The Jewel in the Skull, Mad God’s Amulet, The Sword of the Dawn, and The Runestaff)
The Black Unicorn by Tanith Lee
Starring Miss Marple by Agatha Christie (an omnibus edition including The Body in the Library, A Murder is Announced, and They Do It With Mirrors)
Five Complete Poirot Novels by Agatha Christie (an omnibus edition including Murder on the Orient Express, Thirteen at Dinner, The ABC Murders, Cards on the Table, and Death on the Nile)
From Amazon, I bought:
The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
The Mirrored Empire by Kameron Hurley
Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley
Almost Infamous by Matt Carter
Twelve Kings of Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu
Blood on the Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu
Kings of the Wild by Nicholas Eames
Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan
The Vagrant by Peter Newman
The Malice by Peter Newman
Amberlough by Lara Elena Donelly
The Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes
The Obsidian Heart by Mark T. Barnes
The Pillars of Sand by Mark T. Barnes
The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard
The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett
The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett
The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks
An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows
A pretty impressive amount of books, I should think.
What will I haul next? We shall see.
Is fantasy political? According to M. Harold Page’s “Why Medieval Fantasy is Not Inherently Conservative (Or Inherently Anything Political)” and Derek Kunsken’s “Is Fantasy Inherently Not Political?,” the answer is no. Both essays, which appeared on Black Gate, argue that fantasy is not inherently political. I fundamentally disagree with them.
First of all, what does “inherent” mean? According to Merriam-Webster’s, “inherent” means: “involved in the constitution or essential character of something.” So, is fantasy inherently political?
Well, yes, fantasy is political. You see, fantasy is a form of literature, a form of art. And art is political. No matter if that work is the highest grade of literary fiction or your average epic fantasy, the work is political. Why?
Simple. Humans are political animals. When a writer writes a work of fiction, a part of his world view, his politics, is embedded within the text. And readers, no matter who they are, engage in a dialogue with the writer because they interpret the text through their own world view, which has a political dimension. (Matthew Johnson’s comment to Kunsken’s post reflects my own views).
I have to wonder what Page’s intention is when he opened his argument with all of those essays looking at the politics of fantasy. He certainly didn’t use it to bolster his case. Hell, Mieville’s interview (the first link) challenges Page’s formulation of escapism. Bourke’s post on Tor (second link) raises some interesting questions that could (and should have been) looked into. And Moorcock’s seminal “Starship Stormtroopers” seems to have been an outright afterthought.
And that is what hurts Page’s argument. He doesn’t engage his sources. He uses them as a prop to rage against. Whether or not he is right about politics and fantasy is irrelevant. He doesn’t care. He reads for escapist purposes and reading deeper into the text doesn’t matter.
A deeper literary analysis will reveal the politics inherent in a work of fantasy.
But, you see, his own argument is political. Moorcock’s essay actually exposes the type of apolitical reading Page champions early on. And he himself reveals that he sympathizes with the more conservative elements (Paragraph 10, starting at the image of The Crown Tower). So, I wonder, is fantasy not inherently political?
Now, I will admit that I agree with the argument that fantasy is not inherently conservative. Not even medieval fantasy. Yes, many of the tropes would imply that fantasy has a conservative bent. And many works of fantasy are conservative. Maybe even the majority. But there are many fantasy writers whose works are not conservative. China Mieville and Michael Moorcock’s work come to mind. As does Ursula K. LeGuin and J.K. Rowling.
(But remember, politics is relative. And a work of literature is interpreted with myriad meanings possible. )
Kunsken’s essay is problematic because he doesn’t prove his case. He essentially declares fantasy inherently apolitical despite the fact that most of his essay leads a reader (at least this reader) to believe that, to the contrary, fantasy is inherently political. Or is the new weird not actually fantasy?
In my estimation, neither Page nor Kunsken prove their case. Instead, they rely on the knowledge that the comments will be, on the whole, friendly and back them up. In the end, their arguments, to me, ring hollow.
Reading for pleasure is great. Reading to escape the travails of one’s life is great. But, so too, is reading to edify oneself. Indeed, it is absolutely great to do all three at once. They are not mutually exclusive.
Yesterday, I finished reading the fourth volume in Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords! anthology series. On the whole, I rather liked the book. My favorite story is beyond question Moorcock’s “The Lands Beyond the World” with John Jakes’s “Storm in a Bottle” a mid distance second. Katherine Kurtz, the lone woman in the anthology, had “Swords Against the Marluk” as her entry. I’m torn on my opinions about that story. The writing and world building are well done, but the posthumous save by the long dead king hampers the story, if you ask me. Reading the anthology, I’m struck by several different thoughts about Sword and Sorcery, or, in Lin Carter’s estimation, the Sacred Genre.
To be honest, I always smiled whenever Carter inserted the words “the Sacred Genre” in his introductions. Clearly, he is trying to valorize Sword and Sorcery as a genre; a genre denigrated save for brief respites. But it comes off as a little silly, parodic really.
Reading “Storm in a Bottle,” I realized something- Conan is a genius. He isn’t stupid. He isn’t ignorant. He is an able military strategist, a polyglot, and has been known to attend philosophical debates. So why is he seen in the popular imagination as all brawn with little brains? I think the term barbarian colors our understanding of Conan (and honestly the cultural Other). Barbarian means an Other, someone who is not from one’s own ethnic or nation group. The ancient Greeks viewed anyone who was not Greek as being a barbarian. From Macedonian and Italic to Scythian, Persian, and Egyptian, all were barbarians. And tell me, were the Persians and Egyptians any less advanced than the Greeks? The Chinese have also used similar terms to describe others, although a significant amount of Chinese cultural influences can raise a group from barbarian to civilized (a good example would be the Japanese). And do not forget that even “barbarous” peoples have technology and skills that major civilizations may lack (the chariot was likely developed on the steppe).
So, why does the “Barbarian” character have to be either stupid, uneducated, or unwilling to learn? Duality, I think. Often times in a Sword and Sorcery tale a warrior of prodigious skill is either antagonized by or antagonizes a sorcerer of some prodigious skill. As the sorcerer is often an analogue for the priest, the scientist, the scholar, and the bureaucrat, the barbarian often has to fill the opposing roles. The barbarian (or the warrior) is by default less educated. It also provides room for critiques of civilization and notions of civilization. Although Brak’s rationalism and agnosticism are hard to believe. Again, there is a contrast- rationalism and agnosticism are products usually of higher education but Brak is incapable of even understanding “chess.”
I find all of this annoying, but understandable. As much as any epic fantasy is going to be inspired by Tolkien to varying degrees, so too will Sword and Sorcery be inspired by Howard to varying degrees. And to degrees that makes no sense. Howard’s Conan can be seen as a commentary on the attitudes of the formally educated towards those without it. The point is that Conan looks like he is dumber than a log, which is all the more surprising when he starts speaking several languages and formulates battle strategy. But other writers don’t see beyond just the “beefy stupid barbarian.”
I’ve been thinking about this issue for a while now, but really haven’t had the time to explore it in any real depth. As those who have read my Sorcerers of series, I am a proud member of team Sorcery. Maybe that is why I like Elric and Clark Ashton Smith so much.
Anyway, I will end this by saying- libraries and used bookstores are still relevant! Go to your local library!
Next time- Expect some Fairy Tail.