Weekly Update – 5/30/18

Hello, Internet!

Books, books, so many books. I feel like, overall, this past week’s been rather productive. I managed to get through The Dragon’s Legacy, and then move forward and read the newly released sequel, The Forbidden City (both by Deborah Wolf). I’ve also made some slow, but solid progress on my short story revision. I’ll be ending, though, by talking a bit about some recent superhero films.


Reading

I’ve done an enormous amount of reading in the last week. Once I got back into the books, Deborah Wolf’s fantasy novels kept me reading quickly, and moving right from the first book into the second without a break for air. And yet, I’m not properly sure how “good” these books are. Addictive, sure, and fast-paced and exciting; but whenever I try to think about them, and what to say, my mind keeps doing a “Yes, but…”

Yes, they’re fast-paced, but we barely get a chance to know many of the characters.

Yes, they’re exciting, but there really doesn’t seem to be much threat.

And so on. The second book opens with a character previously “killed” in book one waking up, apparently not dead. I can’t help but recall GRRM, and his statement that readers should always fear for characters in dangerous situations. While I’m not sure I entirely agree with his “rule” (being someone who leans more toward noblebright than the currently-popular grimdark), I do think it’s relevant with regard to Wolf’s books. I felt little real risk, real danger for the viewpoint characters throughout The Forbidden City.

The reason this is a flaw in the book is because Wolf is writing, loosely, in the style of Martin. She has a large cast of viewpoint characters scattered across her world and writes a story in which everyone’s generally miserable and dying and not having a great time of it. She writes it quite prettily (it’s far from miserable to read) but after a certain point the pattern of introduce secondary character, kill off secondary character, move on becomes a bit trite. The effectiveness of this method of increasing tension drops off at some point, and I felt that Wolf carried on using it a good distance past that drop-off.

I mentioned earlier that the books are fast-paced; I’m inclined to think they’re too quick. Each volume has about as many things going on as a volume from A Song of Ice and Fire, or from The Wheel of Time (or pick your epic fantasy series), but at around 500 pages each, these novels struggle with learning curve in terms of names, geography, and magic, and they struggle with pacing and deeper characterization. The Dragon’s Legacy does a better job of this than The Forbidden City, because the first novel settles mostly in one region for the first third of the book. By the second book, we have long, drawn-out storylines (at least one of which I’d love to just see as a novel in its own right) separated by vast distances, and these lines have quite minimal overlap–if any. The story which I think merits its own novel, the one set within the titular Forbidden City, Khanbul, has no overlap with the rest of the action thus far, after two full novels.

I know I’ve been pointed out a lot of problems and general things that have bugged me about these books, but I don’t think the take-away is that they’re bad. They’re flawed, but they’re still a good, fun read. Wolf’s prose is rather elegant, with a good rhythm and somber feel, and many lovely images, and it carries the stories quite well. I do recommend these books if you like fantasy more along the “swords and sorcery” stuff; they’re set up to appear as though there’s a lot of intrigue, but the intrigue is quite minimal. Which is good! There’s not much intrigue because the characters the intrigue revolves around are basically bloodthirsty warriors. Intrigue ends where swords begin.

So I do recommend these books, if you like fantasy. But, I’m not sure I recommend them highly; they’re good, but not great, and if you give them a pass, I’m honestly not sure that you’re missing something spectacular.

Past those, I’ve started reading Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville. It’s been on my reading list for some time since it’s one of those “oh, this is a big fat classic!” novels. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I’m loving the book. It’s just this great rambling monster of a story, and I think that’s something I’ve been wanting for a while. Ishmael’s narrative voice is wonderful to sink into in much the way that some of Dickens’ work is, where you can just sort of relax and submerge beneath a piece for awhile, until you have to come up to breathe.

I’m not going to set a reading goal this week, but I will be continuing Moby-Dick at whatever pace I happen to read.


Writing

I’ve been working on a revision of my short story about thruns for the last week-ish. The work is coming along slowly, but well. I think I have a good grasp on what to do; the question is how to do it.

I want to emphasize the narrator’s voice more, mimicking Tolkien’s The Hobbit a little so that the narrator becomes a pseudo-character in the piece, and I need to shift and merge a few plot points towards the end. Ultimately, this will lengthen the piece, not shorten it, but I hope that it will add increased conflict and tension, based on comments I got from my classmates.

This revision is due Saturday, so that’s my main project this week. Finish revising this, and submit. Hopefully, after getting comments back from my instructor (and completing one last pass over the text) it’ll be in a condition for submitting to short fiction markets.

Ohh, that’s a little terrifying.


Watching

This past weekend, I went and saw Deadpool 2 with some friends. It was good. I liked it. And, as I left the theater, and drove home, and thought about the film I had a somewhat disturbing thought:

Was Deadpool a better superhero movie than Avengers: Infinity War?

Of course not. Of course not! It was a Deadpool film! That just means blood and guts and cursing and toilet humor. Right?

Infinity War had the colorful lights and big, spectacular effects, but of all things, I think Deadpool 2 had more heart. It’s about Deadpool’s emotional growth and change, about him trying to overcome not his opposition, but himself. Infinity War is a complicated film, combining the stories of several characters and ensembles into one work. Deadpool 2 is also an ensemble film, but its smaller cast lets it have a tighter focus. The ensemble is there, but it’s focused on one thing–supporting Deadpool, and Deadpool’s story arc.

Even so, having a more taut, firm narrative arc wouldn’t necessarily make Deadpool 2 a better superhero movie. The story’s structure is not new, not innovative (that’s a point to Infinity War). What Deadpool 2 does have, its heart, is the conflict between protagonist and antagonist.

I really loved Thanos in Infinity War. He’s menacing, conflicted, and disturbingly plausible. He hits that sweet spot that Ozymandias does in Watchmen, where he does despicable, impossibly awful things all for a laudable cause. Thanos has an extra glaze of crazy atop Ozymandias, but he really does believe that he is doing the right thing. Thanos believes he’s saving the world.

Deadpool is saving a kid. Just one kid. (And so, so many other people die in the process.) This kid, Russell, is also an antagonist. (If there’s a villain it’s Cable, a man from the future who has come to kill Russell.) Deadpool 2 is a good superhero movie because it’s about Deadpool becoming a good enough person to be able to save Russell–both from Cable, and himself. No one really grows or changes in Infinity War, or across much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s sort of an inevitable problem with a serial collection of movies; if you want them to keep going, they can’t have a conclusive end.

Both of these movies are really good. I’m not sure one is actually better than the other; this is more born from me pondering than having a firm, decided opinion. But, there’s a good chance y’all will get more of this jammed down your throat. It’s just very interesting to me that what should be the most comedic, raunchy, National Lampoon-y of superhero movies was actually quite well-written, and had some real sincerity. Deadpool really was a hero.

That’s kind of odd to say, but quite lovely too. Go watch it (provided you’re okay with super-R rated movies).

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