Terry Brooks & the Lighter Side

Typically I write about horror, weird fiction, etc. Not today. Currently I’m excited by the upcoming series The Shannara Chronicles. Have you seen the trailer? No? Then check it out:

I will watch and likely enjoy the heck out of some portion of this series. I’m just not as invested in it as I am in certain other Notoriously Mangled Fantastic Intellectual Properties, and this trailer looks pretty. Once upon a time I read and enjoyed the heck out of Terry Brooks‘ fiction, although I stopped at a certain point, so all of this science-fantasy-Space-Needle-in-Shannara business is new to me, but whatever. I like science fantasy, the post-apocalypse, etc., so it’s off to the races.

Terry Book comes in for an awful lot of criticism in certain F/SF circles; if you have no idea what I’m talking about, take a look at a recent MetaFilter discussion for a summary, including links to and snippets of both vitriol and paeans. For my part, I’ll share these three things that mean I’ll be watching the series.

Shannara art from the brothers hildebrandt

Shannara, as envisioned by the Brothers Hildebrandt

Thing the first. The currently predominant flavor in fantasy fiction—not talking Vampires in the Lemon Grove or “The Library of Babel,” but the stuff you find in the F/SF section in the bookstore—is dark. “Grimdark” in particular, a reaction against the pleasant, if occasionally somewhat vague, unrealities that sprang up in the wake of Tolkien. I’ve read plenty of the dark stuff, because I enjoy it and the psychological realism that often comes with it, but it has its own problems.

As one writer friend said during the latest Game of Thrones debacle, maybe—just maybe—if you regularly consume stories rich with graphic violence and brutality, you shouldn’t complain so much when graphically violent and brutal things happen. Like rape. And, lo, there were hordes of people that week on the internet running around hollering about how you don’t have to have rape in your fantasy universe if you don’t want to and isn’t George R. R. Martin horrible because his work is just chock full of rape and misogyny and how dare HBO let Sansa be raped in the show… and at a certain point I had to laugh. Not because the genuine upset people felt was funny, not because the situation in the story is funny, but because my friend was right. There are other things out there to read, watch, listen to, etc., that aren’t about horrible things like rape, torture, genocide, and hatred. And, hey, when something horrible shows up in the thing you like? You have the power to ignore the thing or stop giving your time to the work.

We are at a cultural moment where the status (legal and otherwise) of women is waxing and waning in all sorts of ways, some of which many people did not really expect, and so we look for opportunities to talk about it, because it should be talked about. Likewise questions of race and ethnicity, which I am very glad are part of the ongoing conversation about what F/SF should be. We don’t live in a vacuum, and neither do our stories, but damn, people—if you don’t want to be brutalized while trying to enjoy escapism, maybe avoid the Fantasy Novels Featuring Guaranteed Minimum Quantities of Maiming, Murder, Rape, Abuse, Torture, Nihilism, Genocide, Colonialism, and Shit That’s Guaranteed to Brutalize You. As Terry Books said in an interview:

“Don’t mention Game of Thrones to me. We were saying, “We don’t want to go that route.” That’s not what the Shannara books are. They’re a family-oriented fantasy and always have been.”

I don’t consider what I write to be family-oriented, nor do I explicitly go in search of that most of the time, but sometimes I want pleasurable, relaxing fantasy.

Thing the second. The Shannara books are often held up as examples of whatever the given critic is looking to criticize, whether it’s Extruded Fantasy Product, Tolkien clones, bad writing, whatever. Note, however, that there are writers who see merit in Brooks’ work. (Aside: if you haven’t read Brooks’ memoir Sometimes the Magic Works, and if you care in the slightest about the formation of the F/SF market as it exists today, you should.)

Everyone always has a reason to hate X book or Y kind of writing, but I recently picked up and thumbed through the little horde of F/SF I’ve amassed over approximately a quarter-century reading it, and I was pleased by the quality of Brooks’ prose. Especially in comparison to the rest of the field of books read by F/SF readers. There are so many, many clunkers in the field of movie tie-in books, licensed IP books, and original F/SF novels, some of them written by authors you love or have loved, and certainly much of the sea of unedited self-published fiction that floats around the internet is worse by far.

Am I going to go out and read up on the Shannara I missed? Probably not. I’m reading Giallo Fantastique, Aickman’s Heirs, Frank O’Hara poems, and a bunch of non-fiction and stuff for research right now. If I read any straight-up F/SF this summer, it’s likely to be some of the Joe Abercrombie I haven’t read, or perhaps Malazan, which is now complete and which I’ve been meaning to read for years. But would I read more by Brooks? Sure. I enjoyed Shannara and the Landover books back in the day, and he is a competent, large-hearted writer who deserves respect. He didn’t have an MFA when he started writing, nor was there a plethora of contemporary models to choose from when he was writing. He wrote a story he loved, as well as he possibly could, and I’m grateful for it.

Thing the third. A long time ago, Terry Brooks was the first author I ever met. I was a shy and lonely kid, like so many others, but surprisingly I wasn’t tongue-tied in the moment. I remember that he was sitting by himself at a table in a Waldenbooks. He was a successful author at that point, but he was just sitting there, reading, with most people just walking past.

It was a cramped location, and his table was… small, but he wasn’t complaining, nor did he appear discommoded. He smiled, thanked me for reading, asked me who else I liked to read, did I like to write, and all of those sorts of things. I didn’t have money to buy anything new from him at the time, but I did have a small stack of his paperbacks. He signed each one, legibly, and I have them to this day. In an age where many authors (and readers, unfortunately) default to snarky, dismissive, attention-seeking, or simply asinine behavior online and in person, Terry Brooks stands clear in my memory for his graciousness. I think the world would be a better place if more people had the wherewithal to behave in such a fashion.

And all of those are some of the reasons why, thirty years after reading The Sword of Shannara, probably twenty-five years after last reading anything Shannara, I’m looking forward to The Shannara Chronicles.

Happy weekend, be good to each other, and be magic.

signature on title page of book

Treasure.

On The Existence of the Female Tentacle

“Is appreciation of Lovecraft and the Mythos a Guy Thing, like the Three Stooges?” That was the beginning, a couple days back, of a lengthy conversation in a Lovecraftian group on Facebook. As far as I can tell, the editor who asked the question wasn’t setting out to irritate, enrage, depress, or offend a large number of dedicated aficionados of the Old Gent, but it happened nonetheless.  As the shitstorm he inadvertently brewed up has waned, I’m still quietly boggling.

One can understand, studying tables of contents and looking back on the long run of Lovecraftian, Mythos, and generally cosmic horror, how one might come to ask if it’s just a “Guy thing.” There are, for instance, a grand total of three female Cthulhu Mythos writers listed on Wikipedia. Most of the Old Guard are or were men, and Lovecraftian fiction hasn’t historically been a place to go looking for strong women.

The problem is that this conversation happens constantly in publishing, genre and otherwise. Someone looks around and asks, in apparently willful ignorance of past discussions and the thousands and thousands of women who read and write every stripe of fiction, “what about those women?” Asking this is itself a kind of erasure: it’s staring obliviously into the face of those women and asking if they exist. Lovecraft is no longer a cult author, and readers of things Lovecraftian are no longer a coterie: from Hellboy to Hello Cthulhu to a geek President of the United States who undoubtedly knows his Cthulhu from his Yog-Sothoth, the tentacles have crept into everything.

There were a number of articulate responses in the discussion on Facebook, some polite and some caustic, but for my money, this comment by Molly Tanzer was the best:

As a new thread gets going in this community asking the tough questions like “What are women writers? Are they like… regular writers? I mean, they’re women, right? So, like, what do they write about? What’s their stuff like?”, I just don’t know what else to say. Especially as the first comment is basically “I can only think of three lady Lovecraftian horror writers!” So, awesome. Anyways, I am happy to say that I have felt welcomed and valued by the editors I’ve worked with within the Lovecraftian horror community, very much including Mike [Davis, editor of Lovecraft eZine, who did not initiate the discussion]. But this whole conversation is starting to wear me out. Apparently in 2014 women writers must still do double-duty–by which I mean, it’s not enough (for some) for us to just, like, write and publish quality Lovecraftian horror. We must do that, while enduring comments about how women don’t mythos because baby-makin’ hormones, while also taking our time to alert people to the fact we exist, AND remembering do so very, very politely so as not to offend the sensitive souls of editors who apparently don’t like to be reminded that part of their job isn’t just publishing their friends, but paying attention–actively reading what is being published by strangers and newcomers alike–trying new things and new people and new voices. Oh, and doing all that while also somehow preserving our sense of humor about life and publishing while being talked down to about how historically “masculine” means this-or-that, or Lovecraft such-and-such. Jesus. I mean, I have a degree in Gender Studies, and a Master’s in humanities that focused on history. And I write in this community. So… yeah.


Here are links if you want to do some reading. No consistency to these, really, just grabbed a bunch. I wasn’t able to find explicitly Lovecraftian/Cthulhuvian free online fiction for all of the authors listed, or wasn’t sure which to pick, and so left things as I did, which looks a little odd on the authors list. If you have suggested links about women who write Lovecraftian fiction, feel free to drop them in the comments.

Commentary

Women Who Write Lovecraft

Women at the Lovecraft Film Festival

Favorite Women in Horror

All-Female Authors Issue of Lovecraft eZine

Lovecraftian Archetypes: the eternal feminine

Joanna Russ and Lovecraftian/Mythos fiction

Authors

Caitlín R. KiernanWikipedia. Amazon.

Ann K. SchwaderInterview. Story.

Elizabeth BearInterview. Essay. Story.

Molly TanzerInterview. Story.

Silvia Moreno-GarciaInterview.

Gemma FilesProfile.

Lois GreshCollection. Interview.

Amanda DownumInterview.

Livia LlewellynInterview.

Anthologies

Lovecraft Unbound

Conqueror Womb: Lusty Tales of Shub-Niggurath

The Book of Cthulhu

The Book of Cthulhu II

New Cthulhu: the Recent Weird

Cthulhu Unbound, Vol. 2