September 16th, 2014

Macbeth the Usurper

Tales from Earthsea (Review)

Just when you thought it was safe to mock Ursula LeGuin, laughing at her for being a has-been or an over-touted never-was, she walks gently in with this book, throws you down to the mat with a gently push, and tells you to shut up. The grandmaster has entered the room and all will attend. That's how I feel about Tales From Earthsea.

This books fully retconns her Earthsea universe into one that is more equatable and fair in a way that her earlier books failed at. This books makes it clear that the opinion of wizards, and their view of the world, in no way encompasses the whole world. In many way, the earlier Earthsea books become a sort of propaganda, technically true, yet playing up one group of people and pushing down or marginalizing others. Sorcers and witches, old powers and strange lore, had always been part of Earthsea. In many ways, they were far more powerful as they made a material difference in the everyday lives of people. In contrast, wizards are few and far between, with many people never meeting a wizard at all. They may do grand things, but their lore often lends them to doing nothing at all.

The book opens with a long story about Otter that goes on and on, past where you think that it will end, winding itself around several other places, and landing nicely at its end, telling us a tale of a time before there was a school on Roke, when being a wizard was far more like being a cheap paperback wizard. Roke did not ascend through violence in its defeat of that unjust non-system, but through patience and cooperation, for in these stories, violence is not the axis on which these stories turn.

A handful more stories follow, all elsewhere and elsewhen in Earthsea, giving us a wider view of this place where heroes are not so important, and great things don't necessarily happen. A wizard winds up in the wrong place. A girl want to know her name. A boy falls in love with a girl. All simple stories, in their right, and all warm in their telling.

This book pleased me. 
Macbeth the Usurper

The Sword of Shanarra (Review) (Top Fantasy Novels of the 1970s)

I know that I said that I would go back and read (or reread) fantasy books from the 70s, but I just can't bring myself to reread the Sword of Shanarra. After forty years of lying fallow, I must confess that I am still tired of the Shanarra books and I have no desire to slog through them again. Mind you, I formed this opinion when I was young and impressionable and liked everything that I read, so if I was less than that generous back then, I rather suspect that I will be even more ill-generous now. Perhaps, if I find a cheap or free copy, I may read some of it. Maybe. Or maybe I'm still pining to get all those hours of my life back from 1978.

The main selling point of this books seemed to be that it was long. What it gives you, it gives to you generously and without reservation, although I am not sure that you want everything that it gives you. I suspect that this book is partly responsible for the miserable tendency of fantasy these days to continue oozing out impossibly long and complicated sagas that ceased to have a point within fifty pages of their first books.

Rather than read this book next, I'll table it and come back to it later. If I am fortunate and God is with me, then my resolve will never be tested.