Thursday, September 29, 2016

Paul Edwin Zimmer

As a kid, few fantasy book made as much of an impact on me as Paul Edwin Zimmer's two 1983 Dark Border books, The Dark Border and King Chondos's Ride. It was the first series of book that I "got" for the themes it was invoking, rather than just its plot.

I started thinking about Zimmer recently when a trip to the bookstore uncovered A Gathering of Heroes, a clear sword and sorcery novel that I'd heard of but could never find. All Zimmer's works are decades out of print, sadly enough. He seems like one of those writers whose good novels have gotten lost in the bulk of fantasy bestsellers in the 1980s, the fate of many mainstream "literary" novelists

At the very least, I've never seen Zimmer discussed in any literary or academic context. There's no academic work on him (although he himself once wrote an article on Tolkien's verse for Mythlore). He has quite a decent wikipedia page, though, apparently both for his contributions to the Society of Creative Anachronism and because of his more famous sister, Marion Zimmer Bradley.

But the neglect of Zimmer seems sad, especially given how good those two Dark Border books were. (I didn't care for the novel he co-write with his sister, The Survivors, and A Gathering of Heroes seems pretty ho-hum, although I'm only halfway through . His other books are all out-of-print and hard to find, although the miracles of Amazon makes thing easier.) I'm thinking I might like to do something on him -- an article, perhaps. In one sense, an academic is no different from a fan, dedicated to bringing one's pet loves into larger conversations.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Readers beware of Cambridge!

Not feeling like working on the diss, so I just did a few library searches for recent books on fantasy literature. Came across two books from "Cambridge Scholars Publishers." Name rang a bell, so I did a quick google search. No sooner did I type "is Cambridge Schol--" than google auto-filled the query to "is Cambridge Scholars publishers a good publisher".  Guess that answers my question.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Tolkien and Sidney on Rhetoric?

Given that I just published an entire essay on Tolkien and rhetoric in JTR, I was a bit surprised to recently discover an article on just that topic. (Almost) The piece is "Is Tolkien a Renaissance Man?" by Tanya Caroline Wood, an essay in Tolkien and His Literary Resonances, edited by Clark and Timmons. Although admitting that there's no evidence that Tolkien ever read Sidney's Defense of Poesy, she does a hardcore rhetorical comparison between Sidney's essay and Tolkien's "On Fairy-stories." 

Basically, both pieces mix the genres of encomium (which praises and elevates its subject) with the defense (vindicates an accused subject). The rest of the essay simply pinpoints mutual uses of classical rhetorical devices such as refutatio. There's no real "so what?" answer, and the piece never rises above bare comparison, but I was simply intrigued that there have been attempts to link Tolkien to classical (or, in this case, Renaissance) rhetoric, however misguided.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fiddlesticks and Confound It

So, alas, the panel at the international Kalamazoo conference was full, so my abstract got kicked back for consideration to the General Session. All of which is cool. But then I got an e-mail from the panel organizer asking if I'd be willing to moderate. I said I'd happily moderate the session, but I couldn't give a definitive "yes" until I'd heard back from the General Sessions selection people. He replied, "Oh fiddlesticks, of course I should have thought of that." That tickled me pink.

In other news, the wife and I arrived home yesterday from visiting family in PA. Visiting family is always nice, but I always get twitchy when I go a full day -- much less a week -- without doing substantive academic work. But I'm back in the grind at Starbucks this morning!

Friday, September 16, 2016

N.K. Jemisin

So, given that N.K. Jemisin is the hot new thing in recent years, I decided to give her another chance. I read the first book of her Inheritance trilogy, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and wasn't greatly impressed. It started off new and terrifying, a young woman meeting a god -- and who can trust a god when that god explains about the beginnings of time and reality? But then the novel turned into a straight political narrative involving humans and gods. The gods, who initially seemed terrifying, ended up having motivations and grudges and clear comprehensible motives just like everyone else, and I never bothered to finish the trilogy.

However, I can't say the same about The Fifth Season, the first book in Jemisin's The Broken Earth series. This is book f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c. The quality leaps right off the page from the very beginning, which is refreshing since the last few series I've tried and quit had quite pedestrian prose -- workmanlike, usually clear, but somewhat plodding. Her created world is strange and new, something I've seen much more often from science fiction than fantasy. (In fact, although she explicitly calls her novel a fantasy, it could just as easily be called sf and no one would truly know.)

While I'm on the topic of fantasy lit, though, I do feel somewhat guilty for being so bored by Aliette de Bodard's fantasy-mystery book. I called it "relentlessly mediocre" even though I praised its historical research. I should clarify that I meant her prose and her ability to write scenes. With the prose, I kept wanting to cross out (using a red pen) sentence after sentence that was too expository or too "telling, not showing." The scenes tended to lack any emotional depth. But, in literary aesthetic terms, I was impressed by her plotting, which was both intelligent and talented. Servant of the Underworld is a book that would have looked phenomenal in its outline. It's the actual execution that falls short.

Monday, September 12, 2016

It Must Be Abstract!

The title of this post, of course, is a reference to Wallace Stevens's "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction." (Ha, look at me saying "of course" there.)

Yesterday I wrote not one -- not two -- but three abstracts for three different potential pieces. Two will go to conferences, one will go to a special issue being put out by a journal.

I'm half-crossing my fingers that not all of them get accepted. The conferences will be expensive, and I'll probably only get funding for one; as for the journal article, well, I'd have to write the article from scratch, and I am working on a dissertation, after all. For the moment, though, the opportunities do seem too good to pass up.

The conferences, btw, are the big medievalism conference up in Kalamazoo (which has three Tolkien-specific panels), and the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts, which just looks ultra fun.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Odd Coincidences: Aliette de Bodard

So, the discussion forum for the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts (a mouthful, ain't it?) recently had a discussion of Vietnamese literature and Vietnamese writers. Someone mentioned the French-Vietnamese writer Aliette de Bodard. What makes this so odd is that I'm reading her at this very moment. I had seen that she'd done a fantasy trilogy influenced by the Aztec empire and, since the Aztecs are a special interest of mine and don't get a lot of play in Western literature, I decided to check her out.

Halfway through the book, my judgment is halfway between "surprisingly competent" and "relentlessly mediocre." On one hand, when you hear "fantasy trilogy based on the Aztecs," things can so horrendously wrong, but de Bodard has clearly done her research. The weirdest thing is that she's writing detective fiction -- not epic fantasy -- in the Aztec world (i.e., the actual Aztecs, not just an invented secondary world influenced by Aztec culture). What primarily differentiates de Bodard's fantasy-mystery from a historical-fiction-mystery (like The Name of the Rose) is that magic actually works. Okay, that's fine, but to waste the Aztecs on a mystery novel seems odd. Still, as I said, de Bodard -- besides some quirks like oaths such as "Huitzilopochtli take him!" -- handles her source material decently well, so kudos to her.

On the other hand, she's just not a very good writer. A little too much exposition, the characterization a little too banal. The prose is rather pedestrian (which is forgiveable if the story or the characters were better). This might be my last foray into de Bodard, I think.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Memorial Service for Prof. David Lavery

His memorial service -- a "Celebration of Life" -- was held yesterday morning, as well as a reception afterward. There must have been a few hundred people there -- friends, family, colleagues, students, and so forth. His absence has truly left a big hole.

I only attended the Celebration, as the reception was too far away for the wife and I to walk, but it was very well done. Four colleges, four former and current students, and two family members all spoke. The basic theme not only perfectly described Dr. Lavery, it was something he would have loved to hear about himself: "Relentlessly generous with his time, a great scholar, a great human being." Rhonda Wilcox, the co-founder of Whedon Studies alongside Dr. Lavery, had a story which I thought quintessential Lavery. Some years ago, Lavery had been invited to give the keynote address for the very first Joss Whedon conference, which was being held in England. He could have gone, of course, but he said, "Do you know Rhonda Wilcox? You should give her a try." Not only was that her first ever keynote presentation, it was also the first time she'd ever been to England -- she would never she said, have been able to afford the airfare if the conference hadn't paid that for her. 

So I loved that story. That's who David Lavery was: someone immensely proud of his own accomplishments, but even prouder of all the students and scholars whose careers he could help.

Lavery's daughter, Rachel, ended the Celebration of Life with a clip from Mad Men -- one of the best scenes, in Lavery's opinion, from one of the best shows ever to be produced on television. It's Draper's "carousel" pitch about nostalgia, "the pain of an old wound." It was a powerful ending to a powerful memorial service. The clip may be found below: