Nov 232012

Joe Abercrombie’s new novel, Red Country, is getting a lot of press because it’s a Western.  But Abercrombie’s already written some Westerns — The Heroes and Best Served Cold are westerns almost more than they are typical fantasies.  Both of those books dealt less with common fantasy themes of magic and coming-of-age and mysterious unfoldings of ancient wisdom,  and more with themes more often found in Westerns like revenge quests and the conflicts between personal codes of honor vs law and between loners vs civilized society.

But rather than argue about genre — which is relatively pointless once you grant the obvious and common point that Abercrombie plays with genres — we ought to do an independent assessment of whether the book is any good.  And my assessment is that yes, it is good, and for more than just the fight battle killing scenes, which are Abercrombian.  (I mean that as a term of praise.)

Joe Abercrombie’s newest novel goes well with a San Pellegrino and some Irish cheddar cheese.

What Abercrombie gives us more than any other fantasy author in the business these days is character.  He’s famous for his action, but his characters really make his novels great.  And his dialogue.  After all, his books are thick, and they’re not just one violent scene after another. It’s the characters and the dialogue that keep us interested all the way through these thick books.  Abercrombie’s characters, admittedly, have been scarred by violence, threaten violence, fear violence, and thrive on violence.  So, yeah, a reader can be forgiven for thinking that Joe Abercrombie is a violent author, but it’s not because there are necessarily more fight scenes in his books than in anyone else’s.

It’s because Abercrombie understands violence better than any other fantasy author.  He refuses to treat it as entertainment — or, rather, as just entertainment.  He takes violence seriously, and understands that it can change people, usually for the worse, for the rest of their lives.  An Abercrombie character isn’t a cut-out because an Abercrombie character actually has to face the consequences of carving someone up with a sword (or chopping off their fingers with a meat cleaver) in a way that other author’s characters don’t.

But I did mention dialogue, too, didn’t I?  Joe Abercrombie is one of those authors who could fill several little books of aphorisms and one-liners, sort of like Edward Abbey.  Even after only six published books, the time has come for the first Abercrombie pocket quote book to be published.  It would be full of gems like the following:

“Every man has his excuses, and the more vile the man becomes, the more touching the story has to be.”

“The truth is like salt. Men want to taste a little, but too much makes everyone sick.”

“There are few men with more blood on their hands than me. None, that I know of. The Bloody-Nine they call me, my enemies, and there’s a lot of ’em. Always more enemies, and fewer friends. Blood gets you nothing but more blood. It follows me now, always, like my shadow, and like my shadow I can never be free of it. I should never be free of it. I’ve earned it. I’ve deserved it. I’ve sought it out. Such is my punishment.”

“‘A whole new thing. A forging of the humble parts of bread and cheese into a greater whole. I call it…a cheese-trap.’ Whirrun took a dainty nibble from one corner. ‘Oh, yes, my friends. This tastes like … progress…’”

“The lowly have small ambitions, and are satisfied with small indulgences. They need not get fair treatment. They need only think that they do… ”

In the interest of avoiding any spoilers, I will say the following about Red Country.  It’s a Joe Abercrombie book.  That means it has Joe Abercrombie characters, and dialogue.  That constitutes from me a positive review.  More specifically, I’ll say that it has what most fantasy novels that I love always seem to have — plenty of wilderness, bad weather, and empty land.  It has a quest in it.  It has a romance in it.  It has a stagecoach chase.  And it has what I suspect has to be some sort of homage to Tolkien in the middle of all the Clint Eastwood, but of course I can’t be sure because I haven’t seen any admissions of that from Abercrombie yet.

Big thumbs up!

Nov 072012

I’d like to vote for a Republican

Since everyone else is giving the Republicans advice today, it probably won’t hurt to add my two cents.

First, note that I have never voted for a Republican in a statewide or national election.  So you might want to discount my advice as coming from someone who is unlikely to vote Republican in the future.  That would be fair.

But note also that I am not a reliable Democratic voter.  I voted for Ross Perot in 1992.  I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000.  And I did not vote for Obama in 2012.  I’ve never particularly thought of myself as a Democrat, and I always thought it would be great to be able to vote for a Republican.  But I never have.

Why?  Ever since I’ve been politically aware, the Republican party has been the party of:

Anti-intellectualism.  If you have been a science-denying, bury-your-head-in-the-sand, magical-thinking kind of candidate, since at least the early ’80s when I became politically aware, you have been a Republican.  We saw it most clearly this time around in the “skewed-poll” kooks and the troglodyte (that word is so appropriate) “legitimate-rape” Senate candidates, but in the past this anti-intellectualism has manifested itself as climate-change denial and advocacy of “prayer-based” solutions to practical policy problems.  On the left, there are a few chakra, aura, and seance types mulling around, but they don’t have any influence in the Democratic Party on a state or national level.

Racism.  Ever since Nixon’s southern strategy, endorsed and exploited by Republican icon Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party has been the party of choice for America’s white racists.  Why?  Tacit acceptance of racist candidates.  Standing idly by while entertainers like Rush Limbaugh fire up the “base” with racist drivel.  Sure, there are racists who don’t vote Republican, chiefly non-white racists, and non-Republican candidates who pander to them, but on balance, most of the time, if you’ve wanted to cast a vote against racism since the time of Nixon, you’ve voted against the Republicans.  To this day, the Republican Party is the less vigorous of the two major parties in opposing racism.

Anti-environmentalism.  Nothing about conservatism as a political philosophy obligates conservatives to be anti-environmentalists.  The Republican Party has nevertheless been reliably and implacably anti-environmentalist since at least the Reagan administration.  I think this stems from the party’s deep opposition to “regulation”, which, itself, is another reason the Republicans have never been able to win my vote.  Regardless of the motivation, I’ll not vote for an anti-environmentalist candidate, and this has meant that I haven’t been able to vote Republican even once during my lifetime.

So my advice to the Republicans: you don’t have to abandon conservatism.  You should, however, think about denouncing anti-intellectualism, anti-environmentalism, and racism.  I would be happy to vote for your candidates if you’d take those three steps.

UPDATE: John Scalzi gives his advice here.  I agree, especially with the telling to fuck off of Rush Limbaugh and Grover Norquist.

Nov 072012

The 2012 election is finally over.  Which means the incessant campaigning is over, at least for a little while.

My reactions to the results are mixed.  The good news: the trend in the US toward greater recognition of human rights in the realm of social and personal life shows no signs of abating.  Ballot issues in Washington, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota all were resolved in favor of gay marriage.  The troglodyte GOP candidates Todd Akin and Richard Moredoch were both defeated in otherwise solidly Republican Missouri and Indiana, respectively.  Colorado and Washington voters legalized marijuana.  The racists, homophobes, and theocrats among us continue to lose ground, and I celebrate that.

Unmanned drone firing missile

Unmanned drone firing missile

The bad news, then.  In the 2012 elections, no one who supports arbitrary government powers of assassination, indefinite detention, and warrantless wiretapping was made to pay any price whatsoever.  Disregard for the rule of law and for the separation of powers that revolted so many of us during the George W. Bush administration has dropped off the national political radar.  The government authoritarians, personified for so long by Dick Cheney (and now exemplified, tragically by Barack Obama), received another strong electoral message that their stance on civil liberties, which seemed so radical as recently as five years ago, is now uncontroversial.  Obama went a long way toward institutionalizing tyrannical government powers during his first term, and the electoral verdict for this horrifying reversal of his pre-2008 election rhetoric cemented that institutionalization.  The voters’ message was “we don’t care about, or even remember any of that stuff.”  With each passing election, rule-of-law advocates like Glenn Greenwald become ever more marginalized, without ever changing their own positions.

Looking ahead, I remain optimistic that the social right wing will continue to lose influence.  They’ve been losing ground ever since I’ve been politically aware, and nothing suggests that this trend is going to reverse itself.

Unfortunately, nothing suggests that the trend toward more and more arbitrary government police power will reverse itself, either.