Tag: fantasy

Magic’s nostalgia

I’ve been experiencing a very specific form of nostalgia lately. Coming to mind a lot has been a very particular time of my life, primarily centered around the books I was reading then, and evoking a mood or feeling in me that may be a mix of the feelings I felt then — but most certainly just a nostalgia for that time.

It was about 1998, spring. A crazy and mixed up, but at the same time, incredibly wonderful and hopeful time. My wife and I were living in Des Moines, before we found out she was pregnant. I was working, first, as a shift supervisor at a Waldenbooks, then briefly at a Sam Goody, then as tech support for an ISP. The Waldenbooks gig sucked. I’d been the assistant manager of another Waldenbooks before we transferred to Iowa for my wife’s promotion with her job, and it was a good job! But the Des Moines store was a huge disappointment. The Sam Goody was just a very brief stint while something better was found, which was the ISP support job.

We only had the one car, and wife needed to use it more than I, so I would either walk home from the mall of Waldenbooks, or take the bus to/from the city for the ISP job. And it was during that time that I started reading Mercedes Lackey. Specifically, her “Last Herald Mage” trilogy. I read it walking home, I read it on the bus, I read it between support calls. It was captivating, gripping, tragic, and magical.

Of course, I loved them, but they’re not the best books I’ve ever read. Also, I was still a voracious novel reader then so I’m sure I ate through those three and the “mage wars” books I read next within a week, two at the most — so it MUST have only been during one of those jobs. But, I remember reading them while walking, and I remember reading them while eating at this great little Chinese restaurant in the same building as the ISP job. *shrug* Memory is a funny thing.

Anyway, the nostalgia is partly for the experience of reading those evocative books: they’re the first novels I’d read that featured a gay hero, and that was fascinating. And they’re one of the rare fantasy books/series that I’d read that had such a dramatic and personal story. But also, it was a heady, new, and exciting time of my life that has become linked to those books — or, rather, to the reading of those books, most likely. And for various reasons, that’s been coming to mind quite a bit.

Is there a book or series that you’ve read that is indelibly linked to a particular time of your life?


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io9 suggested reading list.

pattern_recognitionio9.com recently (well, OK, a month several months ago — I’m a little lot late) published their 20 Best Science Fiction Books Of The Decade” list. This really is a compelling list of SF over the last ten years, much of it dealing with issues of late postmodern culture and our sense of rootlessness and lack of historical perspective (The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson; Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson; Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger are primary examples, although nearly all of them have living in postmodern times as an underlying theme). Some of it dealing with posthumanism and the way technology is not just “helping” humanity, but changing it at very fundamental levels–or exploring changing perceptions of what it means to have gender or racial, or even species identification (Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge; Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville; Down And Out In the Magic Kingdom, by Cory Doctorow).

The following is their list and my status, as of this moment, on that book — whether I’ve read it, have it and plan to read it, don’t plan on reading it, etc. I’d like to read most on this list by the end of the year (eep! half over already!). Updates may come… now and then.


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Brust on Capital

First, a little story:

I’ve been a huge fan of SF author Steven Brust since circa 1988 when Taltos came out. (I didn’t know at the time that was not the first in the “Vlad Taltos” series, but it worked out OK.) After becoming a fan, I discovered Brust was a self-described Trotskyist. Being in my teens, early to mid-20s, I really didn’t have any idea what that was but I knew it was somehow connected to GASP! evil Communism! One part of my brain processed this information something like, “Huh, his writing is kick-ass, he seems really cool…perhaps whatever Trotskyism is it’s either a) inconsequential to who he is, or b) it’s not some all-encompassing evilness as my culture leads me to believe.” The other half of my mind processed more like, “LA LA LA LA I’M NOT LISTENING! I SEE NOTHINK! I HEAR NOTHINK! MOVE ALONG, CITIZEN!”

So the cognitive dissonance was dealt with by ardently ignoring it.

Until around 2007 when I started grad school and my first instructor was Dr. William Burling: the most influential professor, and one of the most influential persons, I’d ever met. I had the privilege of being a student of his for three (almost four) fantastic classes. What his greatest influence on me was to introduce me to the idea of questioning culture, society, government, art, everything. Everything is, to a greater or lesser degree, either a product of or a reflector of the socio-economic base of a culture and nearly everything in the culture is in service to those who control the wealth in society. In short, Dr. Burling was a Marxist, and by the fortune of serendipity, happened to come into my life just as I was questioning political structures.

At that time I was moving from Democrat to vague libertarian. It took nearly a year of questioning and study and investigation and debate, but eventually I too became a self-described Marxist. Although I’ve barely scratched the surface still of Marxist theory.

So, at one point as Dr. Burling and I were discussing Marxist theory and SF and fantasy literature, I realized something from the long forgotten recesses of my mind… (See, I kinda stopped reading Mr. Brust’s books by this point–not because I stopped liking them, but I’d pretty much stopped reading for pleasure altogether! I am glad to say I’ve since picked pleasure reading back up and have caught back up with all of Mr. Brust’s “Taltos” books at least.) I recalled that tidbit of info about my favorite fantasy author being a Trotskyist. I asked Dr. Burling, who had introduced me to Stanley Kim Robinson, and China Miéville, and Philip K. Dick, and a Marxist outlook of William Gibson (who, now, I have no idea how you couldn’t read Gibson with a Marxist outlook! My god, the man is postmodern materialist cultural criticism up and down!) if he had read any Steven Brust. He replied, somewhat dismissively that he didn’t have time for any pleasure reading. Then I mentioned Mr. Brust was a Trotskyist and, if I recalled, wrote in a couple of his novels about a peasant uprising in his fantasy world.

Dr. Burling grabbed a pen and asked me what that name was again.

Sadly, Dr. Burling passed away a couple of years later. I never did find out if he started looking into Brust’s writing. Probably not; he was pretty busy, in addition to teaching, editing a book of essays on Kim Stanley Robinson and working with  Miéville on a book of criticism about Marxist SF. *sigh* I still feel acute sense of honor of having been able to know the man and learn from him. He changed my entire way of looking at life and I could have missed it if I’d been a couple of years too late.

Anyway, so now that I’m deep in trying to learn and understand Marxist theory, both as it applies to literature and culture, guess what my favorite Trotskyist fantasy author has started doing? He’s reading and commenting on Karl Marx’s seminal work on socio-economics, Das Kapital.* (Volume 1, I believe, which is the one Marx had worked mostly on before he died, while Engels wrote the other volumes.)

What’s really cool is that just before this he had read through and commented on Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (arguably the father of and the manual of modern capitalism). This kicked-ass because not only did I learn something from it (unfortunately I came in rather late), it just goes to show that Brust is interested in exploring all the angles of modern socio-economics and doesn’t just surround himself with material that fits his perceptions or ideologies. That’s certainly a quality to admire and emulate.

marx-victoryI’m looking forward to reading what he has to say about the tome. And I’m very glad that one side of my brain stopped being a pest and started paying attention. Marxism is not evil, Trotskyism is not evil, communism is not evil. These are just ideas, concepts, ways of investigating and ideas are never evil. They may not be good or practical ideas, but one should never dismiss a way of thinking, a way of investigating, because authority has proclaimed it verboten, taboo, out of bounds. Question everything, especially authority. There’s a reason why they are in power, and a means by which they stay in power.

* I think he’s moving his blog over to a new location. I’ll try to update this link if I can when it happens.


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Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears; redux.

I read Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears (edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling) when it first came out in 1995. I bought and read… no, devoured all of the collections of “modern fairy tales” when I was an undergrad those early 90s — Snow White, Blood Red, Black Thorn, White Rose, etc. Now, the series is being re-released for a new audience and I’d like to take the opportunity to review the third book in the series… in what I’m afraid is a rather mixed review.

The edition I’m reviewing is a reprint — and when I say “reprint,” that’s exactly what it is. The version of the book I received, as the new reprint, has the cover seen here and a publishing date of 1996 under Prime Books. The original mass market paperback I have was from Avon Books and released 1995 (although Barnes and Noble is showing it published in a different year and publisher than I’m looking at right now in the book itself). Amazon shows another cover for Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears also published by Prime, but listed as 2008. There are a couple more covers and ISBNs available through Amazon and B&N. Regardless of this very confusing collection of Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears iterations, one thing I can deduce from my looking and primarily from comparing the two editions in my hands, is that while there may be a multitude of covers the insides are exactly the same. Exactly! From the table of contents and the introduction straight through to the intros for each story and the very page numbering, the contents of the books are identical.


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