Monday 2 August 2010

not my kind

A post about fantasy author/greatest living Ayn Rand fan, written for a message board I sporadically frequent (colour me oxymoronic today):
Terry's the bad kind, if you ask me. I read the first three books of his Plot Token Of {insert noun here} series at a time when I hadn't read any fantasy for a long time and wanted to lose myself in long, detailed secondary world narratives. Goodkind's books and Jordan's were the only new things on the market at the time, people like Mieville and VanderMeer hadn't started shaking up the genre scene and really, it all seemed sufficiently Tolkienesque, which was all I asked for at the time.

And to Goodkind's credit, despite writing like a hard-working if somewhat slow 13-year old, he managed to display a certain unpolished sense of wonder in the sheer act of storytelling. He seemed to care about his characters and what happened to them, and to enjoy creating their story and shaping the world around them. His professed lack of knowledge of the fantasy genre is probably why he hit on so many stock elements (WoT fans love detailing the ways in which Goodkind's world seems like an echo of Jordan's) that seem rather familiar to a genre fan. I've always believed that to really breathe new life into a genre you have to work from within - we've all seen what happens when a famous literary writer tries his or her hand at a science fictional or fantastic narrative, resulting in a novel that has certain literary values that may be absent from the average genre offering, but resolutely fails to offer a thought or idea that hasn't already been explored in full detail, usually more than half a century back, by genre writers. It takes writers like Samuel R. Delany or China Mieville, writers who are in love with the genres they want to turn upside down, who have an obsessive fan's knowledge of the history and techniques of the genre, to use all that love and knowledge to craft something truly new and sometimes even eye-openingly subversive. Then you have the genre craftsmen who may not bring something altogether new to the table, but who have mastered the tools of the trade and tell stories that add to the tradition subtly even if they don't blaze the radical new trail the more radical genre fans may demand.

Finally, you have people like Goodkind who are neither literary writers trying a new direction or genre writers working consciously within or against a tradition. An outsider artist of the fantasy genre, if you will. Just not necessarily a very good one. By the third book of the series I'd grown weary of Goodkind's black-and-white ideological dichotomies, his increasing use of sex and violence, or better yet, sexy violence to keep things exciting, his self-righteous protagonists, and the general lack of granularity to his world. Goodkind's books have a large and dedicated following, but then again so does The Bold And The Beautiful, a bog-standard US soap opera that has run for an incredible 23 years now, in a world where Star Trek was cancelled after just three seasons.

Not really my kind of fantasy, then.

1 comment:

Mahesh Raj Mohan said...

A well-written take-down of Terry. I never read his stuff (though I did read Jordan as you may recall), and now I definitely never will! I particularly enjoyed your paragraph on "mainstream" writers taking on specfic themes. Eloquently said, sir.