Friday, March 15, 2013
Reading Chomsky is informative, eye opening, and disturbing. Few writers challenge what you think you know better than he. And yet despite the insights, the analysis, the disturbing revelations (that are really a matter of public record and whose sources he quotes exhaustively), what comes through is his optimism and belief in the power of collective groups to work to the benefit of all. Noam Chomsky is brilliant, insightful, a first class mind, destined to be studied for generations, but he is also first and foremost a good human being, who refuses to lose his humanity, or his faith in human beings.
I understand the inherant danger of idolizing an author. They are human beings and as such probably well stocked with foibles, quirks and nasty humours as the rest of humanity. When tempted to idolize an author too much I remind myself that even the great writers and thinkers treated the people around them in ways they would sooner have us all forget. Faulkner used to cruelly remind his daughter that no one remembered Shakespeare's daughter. Count Tolstoy, my own personal hero, used to say horrible things to his wife daily. Even George Eliot, that most compassionate of human beings, probably said something like the following to her life partner George Henry Lewes "You know George, you can really be an asshole sometimes." So age and experience have taught me to be wary of idolizing any single member of our species. But with Chomsky, despite the probabilities that he might be difficult to live with and be around, most true intellectuals are, what moves me is his faith in people.
His optimism is not naive, it is not faith based, it does not even feel rational at times. But it is there, as real and palpable as his tireless efforts to discover the truth. His writings do several things but they do one thing well: make you question the way you think the world works. In this sense he has become a mental and cultural role model. He sees our current apathy and defeatism as ENGINEERED. It is put in place by our media, our corporate dominated systems to make us feel and think as if we cannot act in any way other than to be fearful and our only act of free will consists in consumerism. He lays bare the sources for this influence and as such reminds the reader that sometimes, those things you suspect in your bones of being true, that growing up is not really synonymous with being cynical, or that wanting to help the rest of humanity is not naive but truly human, and in so doing allows you to become the better human being you hoped to be. Or at least to learn how to think like one.
The arguments here reveal the agendas of corporations who seek transnational trade agreements, but attempt to do so behind closed doors, between heads of state and heads of corporations, without the consent or knowledge of the constituents they supposedly represent. The truly disturbing aspect of the book is the collusion between the two groups to effectively rule out the opinion of the masses, whose lives are affected by the deals brokered in glass towers. Chomsky warns we must be wary of those in the business world and in government who claim to act in our best interest without wanting to inform us of how are lives are to be affected by the deals brokered there.
Monday, March 4, 2013
Below is an email I wrote for a friend who has finished all the Song of Ice and Fire books and wants something to "read in the meantime." She was never a reader of fantasy and is now fascinated by the genre and its possiblities.
Here is the list I promised you. If its too long and wordy…oh well. Don't ask me to speak on a subject I love so much.
A good place to start is the first law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie: The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and The Last Argument of Kings. Since you seem to like the darker aspects of the Martin books: the violence, the backstabbings, betrayals, affairs etc. you should really dig these. On his blog Abercrombie writes that in his teens and twenties he had been a devourer of fantasy but then grew out of them. That changed in 1996 when he picked up A Game of Thrones. Fantasy, he wrote, could do some very adult things.
After the Trilogy you can read Best Served Cold, The Heroes, and Red Country. These are all stand alones but set in the same fantasy world. He gets better with each book. I think of these the strongest was probably The Heroes but read em for yourself and decide.
He writes on the blog that one of the highlights of his career as a writer was when Martin himself wrote positive reviews of his books. Abercrombie is seen, at least in England, as the natural successor to Martin.
Once you get through them the next place to turn would be The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. Book 1: The Name of the Wind, and Book 2: The Wise Man's Fear. (Book 3 is unpublished and he's still working on it: tentatively titled The Doors of Stone). These are my current favorites in the fantasy genre and are a storyteller's feast. His books are intelligent, literate, action packed but very subtle as well. They have nasty scenes like the murder of a boy's parents in front of his eyes but also some powerful poetry and some of the best world building I've ever encountered. Whereas Martin's characters tend to be a little outrageous in their behavior Rothfuss's are more subtle and more deadly. Kvothe, the protagonist goes against type in the books by being literally one of the most intelligent characters ever created. He's like a red haired tyrion who also happens to be a musician. Not exactly your usual sword swinging protagonist.
After this my next favorite and a real charmer of a series is The Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch. The first book is The Lies of Locke Lamora and the second is Red Seas Under Red Skies. If people describe Game of Thrones as the Sopranos with swords then this series is best described as Ocean's Eleven with Swords. It follows the adventures and screw ups and heists and general con man Locke Lamora who is Camoor's best thief and his crew. What surprises about this series is the way it starts out as a bit light hearted (the opening chapter is titled "The Boy Who Stole Too Much") and it gets dark. Like the parts of Game of Thrones where the series gets into the old gods and melisandre and you realize you in a deep and dangerous place in human consciousness, he throws into the mix of organized crime all these mythic religious overtones. This series is probably going to some day be made into movie or tv show. Its that good.
Speaking of the HBO brand: the network signed a contract to make a series based on Neil Gaiman's American Gods which is the best work of fantasy in the world(IMH). Its what is known as urban fantasy, by which I mean there are magical elements such a magic and gods old and new battling. But the character of Shadow and what happens to him is a real page turner. I've actually seen this book in a collection of american literature.
Speaking of Urban Fantasy: a good series to read is The Magicans by Lev Grossman. It’s the one I described to you as "What would really happen if teenagers were given magical powers.."
After that it might be good to get some female perspective: There are several women writers who have a good reputation, but I've only read two of them. The first is Robin Hobb and a good place to start with her books is Assassin's Apprentice. Her books have adult themes like adultery and illegitimate births but for me were a little too formulaic. Its as though she knew she were writing a specific style of book that had certain expectations from readers. Even though the books didn't blow me away I still enjoyed them.
The other female I've read is K.J.Parker. She is bitingly sarcastic and you sometimes get the sense she hates her characters. But these books are brilliant in their analysis of human behavior and the ways we delude ourselves. Her characters fall in love and destroy everything in their lives as a result. But she is also charming. Reading her you will have a wry smile on your face the entire time.
Another female who by reputation is among the best is Jaquiline Carey. Her book Kushiel's Dart is the beginning of a long and complicated fantasy with adult themes that a lot of reader praise. Some day I'll get around to them.
But back to the dudes: Martin himself once wrote that one of the inspirations for A Song of Ice and Fire came from a series by the American writer Tad Williams called Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. There are four books: The Dragonbone Chair(notice any resemblences?), Stone of Farewell, and To Green Angel Tower which is split into two books parts 1 and 2. Williams takes fantasy and does some adult things with it at a time when it was not allowed. It was reading these betrayals and adulteries and dark characters(among which you will see the inspiration for Jaimie, as well as Cersei, and Varus) that Martin realized he could "get away" with the things he wanted to do.
Ive read these but it was more out of curiosity to see what ideas if any Martin stole. I don’t think he really took too much except the idea that fantasy could be much more relevent and speak to people's sense of the world.
After that you can check out the novels of Guy Gavriel Kay: Tigana, Sailing to Sarantium, Lord of Emporers, The Lions of Al-Rassan, A Song for Arbonne, Last Light of the Sun, and Under Heaven. He writes fantasy novels that are more like a historical novel but very poetic.
There are more but hopefully by this time GRRM will have finished The Winds of Winter.
Peace and Enjoy,