Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Open Thread: Loving your hates

I've been listening to Heroes Die: The First of the Acts of Caine. I bought it because I really enjoyed Matthew Stover's other writing.

 In theory, I should hate this book, (Well, in theory, communism works) as it  is assembled almost entirely out of components I loathe. This was going to be part of the review of the book itself (coming soon to a blog near you!), but I thought that the topic was discrete enough that it merited its own post.

Heroes Die: The First of the Acts of Caine! Oooh, such a portentous title! Strike one. (And these baseball cliches are Shakespeare compared to fantasy lit cliches, so don't even start with me.)

The hero is an assassin with a conscience, who only kills for the right reasons.  Strike two.

And our hero isn't just a lovable rogue, he's a contemporary citizen from the real world dropped in to a fantasy realm. Strike three, you're out.

Except, while everything I've said is true, none of it means anything.

Caine, is an Actor, thus the title. Acts of Caine. Get it? Roger Zelazny pulled a similar double meaning with the Hand of Oberon. An Actor, in this context, is a professional moved from the real world to a fantasy world to broadcast their adventures among the inhabitants. So, "Acts of Caine" makes perfect sense.

There is a tendency to whitewash the actual bad deeds of protagonists.  As I've observed previously, the most thuggish criminal, if he's funny, nice to his friends, and allowed to present events from his point of view, will look like a nice guy. Comparing your protagonist's most impressive acts against the antagonist's worst is the lazy route to characterization.

This is the second greatest sin of Grosse Pointe Blank, the first being casting Minnie Driver. I hated Grosse Pointe Blank so much that it has caused me to retroactively hate John Cusack.

But Caine dodges this. One of the PoV characters is his estranged wife, who is more harsh on him than Caine deserves, and he never pretends that his actions have any morality than being the best routes to his goals.

And as far as the third item goes, there are plenty of reasons to hate Lord Foul's Bane, but as it's probably the most well known of the "Real Worlder in a Fantasy Realm", (Somewhere Mark Twain starts spinning in his grave) let's limit our discussion to that. By introducing modern culture into your fantasy book, you're limiting its shelf life. The Lord of the Rings was published in the 1950s. I doubt it would be as timeless if Gandalf were a wisecracking beatnik.

Caine avoids this too, though, making the real world an alternate world, familiar enough to be understood, but different enough to stand distinct from our world and our time.

And that brings me to the meat of this post. I'm halfway through a twenty hour audio book. I'm enjoying it more than almost any book I've read in the past ten years. If I had read the cover blurb, it's very possible that I would have passed it over entirely.

This is my long preamble to an open thread.

  1. When was the last time you were surprised by something like you didn't think you'd like?
  2. And when was last time you really enjoyed something that goes against your usual preferences?


  1. As much as I'd love to join the discussion, I actually tend to avoid things I don't think I'll like. (For example, when it comes to books, there are just too many good books out there that need to be read, so I'll rarely take on something that doesn't seem appealing to me from the get-go--if I don't think I'll like it, I just won't start reading it in the first place.)

    Now, if the question were about things we expected to like but ended up hating, I could probably come up with a rather lengthy list.

  2. This is Josh replying.

    In general, I agree with you. I think if I had read the cover blurb, I very possibly would have skipped this book. Sturgeon's law tells us that 90% of everything is crap, but there is so much media out there that the 10% that *is* good can keep us busy for several lifetimes.

    When my friends tell me about QI/Black Books/Archer/Battlestar Galactica, it's not that I'm averse to these properties; it's that I haven't yet gotten around to watching them yet.

    And with that said, while there are some elements that are absolute deal breakers that would cause me to put down a book (or prevent me from reading it in the first place), I can sometimes enjoy reading books outside of my comfort zone, because these works can surprise me in ways that those in my more accustomed interests can't.

    Good writing transcends genre to a very large degree, I think.

    Zach: Now, if the question were about things we expected to like but ended up hating, I could probably come up with a rather lengthy list.

    Josh: Well, if the choice is having an interesting conversation on a topic slightly different than originally proposed or having no conversation at all, I'd love to hear your stories!