About Me

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A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!

Monday, November 22, 2010

90% creative, not dragged down by 10% derivative/silly

It's not exactly fair of me to criticize Tamora Pearce's Song of the Lioness series. First, it's been out since I was in high school. Second, it's written for 15 year old girls. Third, I'm nowhere near publishing, so she couldn't return the favor.

But this isn't about fair, and anyway, I'm going to recommend it pretty highly.

I just finished the tetralogy. The fourth book is Lioness Rampant, and it struck me about 2/3 of the way through that the way Pearce was tying up loose ends was also ratcheting up the pressure. The ends looked so much in doubt at one point that I actually consulted the publication information in the front to make sure (this was a reprint) that this was the last book.

Cheating, I know! It just made me appreciate how skilled Pearce was back then, and she's written at least a dozen novels in the two decades since Lioness Rampant.

The series is also interesting because the main character ages considerably over the four books. Unlike Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, who each age a year per volume, Alanna of Trebond ages a differing number of years per volume, and grows from an adolescent in the first to a mature adult, about thirty, in the last. Would a YA publisher go for that now? I wonder, because it starts with adolescent concerns and progresses to very adult ones (though in no way graphic).

The genre of the series is swords and sorcery type fantasy, crossed with adolescent romance. Pearce combines them well, for my taste, and weaves in many good stories and believable if not especially creative environments and situations.

In fact, it is the lack of imagination (keeping in mind this is a quarter century old series) that I kept thinking about since I started reading the series. The titles of the books, the names of the people and places, the political organization, the geography... I frankly found it a mark against the book, and "world building" is supposed to be key now (years later) in fantasy fiction.

Did Pearce calculate that the story would be more convincing and appealing - to both editors and readers - if it echoed our world so literally? Was she reacting to a fantasy work (or works) that went too far in the creative scenery direction back then?

The end result is that the story is very enjoyable, but I keep noticing the light skinned people who live in castles in a cool-winter land where women have some rights traveling to the southern deserts where nomadic warrior peoples with Arabic names who war against each other and really oppress their women. People to the east of the northern kingdom raid the borders, like "Huns" attacking the Franks. There's a body of water stretching east to west across (to the south) of which live black people. And in the distant east, there are the tallest mountains in the world, with ancient spirits in the Tibetan Plateau, I mean the highest passes. It's as if the world shrank to half its size, and traded the bulk and space for magic.

So that's what I meant by 10% derivative and silly. And I can't even tell if I should be emulating that instead of mocking it! Pearce is still writing. Maybe I'll ask her.

For my own writing, which I'm putting on hold to take care of a non-writing project through 2011 - or at least I think I am - I wonder how much my world building will help the story. I've imagined a solar system and home planet with very different dynamics and physical features to accommodate an otherwise unlikely celestial event and a distinct story setting.

I wonder if it's a waste of time. (It will be if I never finish, of course, but assuming I do, will the rotation of the heavenly spheres matter?)

Now I think I will finish the adult fantasy novel I'm reading - Perdido Street Station by China Mieville.

I'm also just about finished reading Little House on the Prairie to my younger son. He can only take so much of it before dozing off. I can only read so much about "savages" and wild Indians and their antics before editing as I go. It's nowhere near as racist and misanthropic as Barrie's Peter Pan, but Laura Ingalls Wilder's version of the Euro-American settlement of the Plains gives plenty of opportunities for people of my political orientation to cringe. I've decided mostly to leave in the original language, and try to make clear that different people, even within the story, see things differently. That honesty is in the original, whereas the savagery and shallowness of the "redskins" in Peter Pan is assumed and built upon, rather than asserted and discussed as in LHotP.

1 comment:

  1. Spot-on summary and blog- I'll read the Lioness Rampant- just on your great review,

    Keep writing- what's this "put-off" stuff?? This world (and others) needs you!

    John Gourhan
    Friend of Suasan's