And Shook His Heavy Head

More links this week. One that I wanted to throw away but can't get out of my head, Others about the narratives that might need to be retired, and what could replace them.

1 - Here's this textual analysis of various genres, including "gothic", "science fiction", "detective fiction", checking how well they can be categorized based on the words used in large samples of books.  Everything about this seems obnoxious and silly - surely the genre I love cannot be reduced to the list of words inside the covers.  And yet the paper isn't full of grandiose claims.  It tests a few simple questions while being clear about limitations. Plus, there are plenty of links to older influential essays.

2 - I don't understand poetry.  I also don't understand modern art.  But after wandering through the MoMA in New York recently, I found myself looking at the world differently, paying attention to things I would never have noticed otherwise.  After reading the first poem in this piece about African poetry, I had the same kind of reaction to the prose I was reading later in the evening.  Maybe that's similar? (via @kiplet)

3 - I'm always here for dragging Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve. It's a well-written book that oversimplifies the progression from a dark medieval period to the light, joy, and kittens of modernism and the renaissance.   

It is an injustice to the past, and the mythical invention of modernity is an ethical issue because it sets a precedent for history that ignores complexity in favor of oversimplification. What if that history deals with more than cultural production, but genocides or incarceration or forced migration? What if that history is about whitewashing whole religions as all extremists, or naively superstitious, or terrorists? At what cost comes more viewers or higher ratings or more prizes?

4 - This speech at the Harvard Graduate School of Education is phenomenal.  And in the context of the critique of The Swerve above, I was struck by the connections drawn between distant times and places.  An ancestry of the entire world, preparing to crack open the heavens and reach the stars.  It's a far cry from Greenblatt's narrative, and one I prefer.  "The sleep before the American Dream".

5 - Knowing he Doesn't Know a Damn Thing is (was? 2 years ago?) Kip Manley's superpower.

these people, you’re gonna talk to them and they’re gonna come off as, you know, likable, personable, a little sarcastic maybe, bit of a smartass, but that’s the quintessential modern, contemporary, urban narrator, right? Eight million stories in the naked city, hoo, boy, let me tell you, been there, done that, world-weary, jaded, and they stole this voice from reams upon reams of private eye mysteries because, you know, urban, contemporary, and who’s gonna argue with success like that? But, and we’re zeroing in on what I’m getting at, to be that jaded, to be that weary of the world, you have to know something of it, or make like you do

What even is Urban Fantasy, anyway? I have no idea, but I like Kip's prose, and his story, which doesn't seem weary or jaded.

6 - Retire it Already

story shows women treated badly → women characters respond: “Oh, it sucks that women are treated so badly when we are rational humans deserving of equal treatment!” → audience cheers and pats author on the back → author pats self on the back → move on to next scene in which women are treated badly → repeat cycle. Retire it already.

Over at Couch to Moon, identifying and criticizing this cycle (here in Martin's Feast for Crows) would be worth a link.  So would the praise for Nina Allan's earlier review.  This has both.

7 - Black Wolves! Over at the Booksmugglers, Renay has a review.  I never manage to be more coherent about Black Wolves than saying it feels like coming home to the Epic Fantasy genre I adore, without all the grit and grime and patriarchy it's been dragged through.  Coming home might be a useful phrase for people who've talked with me about a lot of fantasy, or those who grew up on Tolkien, Lewis, Black Sun Rising, and perhaps Donaldson as I did.  But for anyone else, my description isn't all that helpful.

After confessing her love for the book, Renay continues - 

This book is about legacies and social change and family. This book is about the intersections of politics and gender and religion. This book is a conversation with epic fantasy and a direct challenge to the waves of people who claim “historical accuracy” to erase people of color, women, older protagonists, and historical nuance from fantasy literature and replace it with an imaginary, white-washed, patriarchal past. This book is a gauntlet thrown by a woman writer who has written inside a genre that has repeatedly said it doesn’t want her or the type of stories she’s telling.

Later, regarding one of the key characters

If this story belongs to any one character, it is Dannarah, who has carved out a space for herself as a reeve Marshall ... Dannarah is the fuel that creates the momentum of the central story ... Through her choices and decisions we meet a woman who is complicated and stubborn and flawed. She’s blinded by the love of a father she lost and a brother she still mourns, and even so late in life, she’s learning things about her past that change and challenge her. Living in complicated political times is difficult; Dannarah’s story is the embodiment of that difficulty.

This is a good review of a book I adored. It nails why the book is important to Renay, outlines the significance of Black Wolves within the fantasy tradition, and specifically discusses a key character and important moments.