1) My new column at SFSignal turned out well, and has gotten some good comments. I really did try to be lighter, but Foucault got in the mix.
2) My first review for the gentlefolk at Functional Nerds is up, covering Ben Aaronovitch‘s Midnight Riot. Which I liked enough that I will try to read Moon Over Soho when I can. They’re fun and have good writing, not wooden and rote like the Dresden books nor squick-inducing like Laurell Hamilton. I’m hoping the second book improves on Aaronovitch’s strengths, particularly his flair for good characters and his capacity for deftly presenting a scene with concision (although I thought that fell away in towards the end of the novel).
3) I’ve read a number of posts and opinions on these here interwebs that have put more gears spinning and clurichauns dancing in my head. Paul Jessup has been writing about epic fantasy on his blog and we have had a few twitter and email exchanges about the subject. These were set off by Daniel Abraham’s discussion over at Orbit. Paul is curious about the need for war to often be the instigation for a given epic’s plot arc, and he makes some compelling observations about the idea of what an epic can be.
I have talked about the idea of epic fantasy before, but Paul’s hypothesis brings up some fresh issues for debate. I have maintained that power is a big part of the epic fantasy, and that the assumption is that “epic fantasy” is about world-shaking conflicts and consequences. As Paul pointed out (and I mentioned as well), the way that the word “epic” if often applied in the genre does not reflect its roots or even many of the classic works that stand as exemplars of the term. The word “epic” is often used, honestly, more in a Hollywood way, to denote huge, overwhelming, vast, sweeping, and thus has more to do with the effect of war movies than the literary echoes of the word. It is also an adjectival modifier that accentuates the significance or awesomeness of a work, or casts it in the mold of a conventional large-scale secondary world saga.
Epics can be much more than that, especially if they hearken back to the idea not of the quest, but of the journey. There is a point where the vast epic becomes comfortable, and lacks the emotional power of a classical epic. The potential for poetry gets lost in the blood and intrigue; the potential for magic is lost, as magic becomes a weapon or a rationalized system, instead of moments of wonder. There are not only depths that epics can plumb, but stories of different sorts of bravery and cunning, dealing with foes that are just villains, but the we recognize from our own travels through life.