The Cultural Gutter

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Follow-Up Visit

James Schellenberg
Posted January 29, 2009

attolia-small.jpgI love shiny new things. I’m also getting more ruthless about my time than I used
to be. Those competing impulses get resolved in a simple activity that everyone does naturally: following writers who have proved themselves in the past. On that note, here are a few follow-up visits to Gutter pieces of the past. What’s been going on with the best stuff of the last few years?


I’ll start off with a brief follow-up to my piece last time on Harry Potter; I finished the series a week or so ago. Two thoughts: the build-up to the ending was terrific, really exciting stuff, but the ending itself was fairly… technical. Harry made an assumption based on arcane mechanics of wand magic, which required a lot of explanation. Maybe not that different than the info-dumps required at the end of the previous Potter books? And secondly, I’m dismayed that the movie-makers have chosen to split the the seventh book into two movies, since book 7 is probably the best candidate for compression. If Movie 7 Part 1 is all the camping bits from the first half of The Deathly Hallows, I’ll happily skip that one.

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January 3, 2008: Smooth, Smoother, Smoothest

Earlier
last year, I looked at
the first book in Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia series, The Thief.
Since then, I’ve read the two subsequent books, The Queen of Attolia
and The King of Attolia.

These two are fabulous books, a joy to read in every sense. The Attolia series is my new example of a series of stand-alone books that are satisfying both on their own and in context of ongoing events. So, pretty much a textbook case on
how to write sequels.

attolia-big.jpgThe drawback is that do a proper job like this takes a while! Turner is a slow writer, with the three books being published in 1996, 2000, and 2006 respectively. That means another 4 to 6 years before she’ll publish another book. I’ll venture that the wait will be worth it.

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October 11, 2007: A Locked Room

Here I looked at the first four books in Timothy Zahn’s
six-book Dragonback series, which began with Dragon and Thief in 2003. He’s since concluded the series with a book called Dragon and Liberator.

I confess
to being a bit baffled by the conclusion. Each of the five previous
books was like a separate adventure, a locked-room mystery of sorts,
hence my title. In the sixth book, Zahn brings all the pieces together,
and this was a drastic change in strategy, since remembering everything that happened previously wasn’t that important. I’ll frankly admit that I had trouble remembering all the characters.

In addition to this basic layer of confusion on my part, it looks like Zahn wanted TEH AWESOMEST
space battle of all time to wrap up the series. Sure, but I didn’t
really understand what was happening. It dragged on and on, and the characters, already foggy in my memory, were frantically flying here and there doing… important yet incomprehensible things.I usually roll my eyes when the
hero and the villain end a long saga with hand-to-hand combat, but at
least I could understand that!

I liked the series a great deal and I
might give it another shot now that all the books are out. Not a disaster of an ending, but not one I was expecting.

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October 6, 2005: The Bandwagon

The Bandwagon was about a book by Ursula K. Le Guin called Gifts, a YA fantasy that I quite enjoyed, the first in a series now called The Annals of the Western Shore. Since
then, she’s written two more books in the same series, Voices and
Powers. I would highly recommend all three books: the series might not be action-packed, and they’re not easy big fantasies, but the writing is superb and the characterization is particularly sharp. The Western Shore is a world where some psychic powers are real, but rather than focusing on the mechanics of these gifts, Le Guin uses them as a way to address topical items – like slavery or totalitarianism – in a way that retains the audience’s interest. That’s a rare feat.

I think Le Guin is on a real renaissance lately. Even
her latest book, Lavinia – historical fiction, not a genre that typically appeals to me – won me over completely. As a Le
Guin fan, I couldn’t be more thrilled to see the quality of her recent
output.

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January 26, 2005: Kicking Ass, Literary-Style

Wow, this feels like ages ago! Way
back when, I wrote about Firefly, the famously cancelled Joss Whedon
series. In the fall of 2005, the movie version, Serenity, came out to
less-than-blockbuster status, which sank the hopes of many fans. I enjoyed Serenity a great deal but I could see why it didn’t do so well at the box office. There was something wrong about the flow, as if the story was constantly tripping over itself. Perhaps that was inevitable? A serialized TV show with an ongoing storyline requires a large cast and expansive storylines; recreating everything the fans loved about that in a less-than-two-hour movie, all the while bringing in new folks, is a huge task. I give Whedon credit for giving it his best. Sometimes the hopeless tasks are the ones that define us.

Oddly
enough, I started my piece about Firefly with a dig at Buffy and Angel.
Times change! Back in 2008, I finished watching both shows.
Excellent stuff. I will add, though, that I’m pretty sick of vampires
again.

Comments

2 Responses to “Follow-Up Visit”

  1. Chris Szego
    February 3rd, 2009 @ 11:09 am

    Totally agree about the Attolia books: both that they’re truly excellent, and that we’ve a long, long wait ahead. Which is too bad. Though books of that caliber are worth the wait.

  2. Nefarious Dr O
    February 5th, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

    I’m ashamed to admit that the only books you cover that I’ve read are the Harry Potter books. Even more ashamed, because I’ve always admired LeGuin’s writing. However, the reason I’m posting is because, like you, I’m really sick of Vampires. enough, already!

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