Sunday, July 10, 2011


Surprisingly, I have managed to read something this year that wasn't written entirely by George R. R. Martin. Admittedly, I only picked this one up when I finished A Game of Thrones and realized that I hadn't ordered the next three.

This is an anthology of fantasy works compiled by Robert Silverberg. It contains five stories written be masters of the genre set in their most famous fantasy worlds. It is intended, I think, to give the reader a taste of the world, so that they might find something new that they like. With each of the stories, if you find something you like, you know that there is a large pile of additional stories in the same style, set in the same world, that you can then start exploring.

The first in the book was a Discworld story by Terry Pratchett, which once again confirmed my thoughts about the author and his stories. I've never been much of a Pratchett fan, but have known many. I can see the attraction - he's quite funny, and many of his jokes are quite clever. They are just all the same. I felt like I'd heard 90% of the jokes in this short story several times before. I personally feel that mocking Fantasy as a genre is just lazy. Fantasy naturally borders the silly, and what separates it and makes it worthwhile is when you take it seriously. Taking the mickey is really just too easy, and turning that into a series of about 38 novels is like spending 20 years picking on the same overweight kid with a limp and coke-bottle glasses.

The second in the book is a story set on Pern, by Anne McCaffrey. I was a big fan of her work 20 or so years ago, and read most of what she had written at that time. Years later, I felt there was something a little off about Pern. It lacks a lot of the richness of good Fantasy, and feels somewhat spartan. It probably comes from the fact that it is more accurately described as "medieval sci-fi with dragons" than Fantasy proper. The world just seems dramatically underpopulated and empty. Good sci-fi and fantasy authors leave you with a feeling that there is a lot more going on around the characters than is mentioned in the books; but in Pern you just have the feeling that when the protagonist walks out of the room, the people just shut up and stop doing anything, and that there is no-one in each town beyond those the characters directly talk to. It's certainly not a bad read; it's just lonely.

The third story was by George R. R. Martin, set in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire, but 100 years earlier. It starts out a bit simple, but by the end it picks up, and turns into a solid tale. There are apparently two more stories in this prequel series, which I'll have to try to dig up. And yes, I must confess this story was the reason I chose this book to read while waiting for my ASoIaF novels to arrive; I was jonesing for some good Westeros.

The fourth was by Tad Williams, set in the world of his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. This is the first I've ever heard of this series, and it seems an interesting world, if perhaps a little depressing. I don't think I'll be deliberately seeking this series, but if I happened to stumbled across it, I might pick it up.

The last is by Robert Jordan, set in the world of his Wheel of Time series. It seems quite good - interesting characters in a richly imagined world - though this series is one of the reasons I have my "don't start reading the series until it's done" rule (which I seem to frequently break). I'll wait to see how the reviews pan out for the last few books in the series, which were completed by a different author after Jordan passed away. It had better be bloody good if I've going to have to read 12,000 pages to get through it. Jordan's Conan novels were very good, so I have a high opinion of his work in general.

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