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Review: The Sword of Rhiannon

Review: The Sword of Rhiannon

There's an older style of writing. I think the first time I was exposed to it was when I wanted to read a bunch of classic books from the Hugo awards. The first book to ever win a hugo was The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. It's certainly an interesting style. A pulp style you might say. It takes a lot of it's voice, character, and primary plot from the detective stories that make up most of the pulp novels of the similar time period. The two novels are just about as old as each other In Bester's case he added in a layer of science fiction through a world that lives with telepathy and in the case of The Sword of Rhiannon that world becomes ancient mars.

I like the world of The Sword of Rhiannon. If you forget everything that you know about real Mars, story Mars can be a lot of fun. There is a relation here to the Mars of Burroughs written thirty years previous. A brutal land of the fantastic built on an older more advanced time, that the main character must learn from to get back to a modern earth. 

It's that older voice that takes away from the parts I liked. It's an old voice and one that brings a lot of the perspective of the pulp world with it. It a problem usually of arrogance. The main character has this sense of self importance and raw enthusiasm that bleeds out into the rest of the world. As if through sheer bravado this character can move the plot on and everyone else be damned. Everyone else becomes, at times, a literal stepping stone on the MC's path to victory over the plot. 

In all honesty it's tiring. It's obnoxious. It's a kind of person that if I met in real life I would never be able to be around for more then a minute. Was this the kind of person that my parents and their parents wanted to be like as they read through the novels of the day? It's hard to fathom with my modern sensibilities. In all honestly I should probably be the target audience for a book like this. A white male. I mean that's what this is right? Burly man's man goes to the savage past and dominates it through force of will and an inborn sense of rightness. For real, it feels totally gross to me now.

I've found this same problem when I'm trying to read the works of Zelazny and McCaffrey who were writing almost twenty years later in the 70s. Somehow this style, this voice was what people were at least selling and buying for a really long time, and it's made it difficult for me to appreciate the older works for me. It's fascinating also that authors like Brackett and McCaffrey were women, which I think is probably a statement about what publishers were willing to buy then it is a statement that this style was acceptable to everyone writing it or reading it. But I guess that's an argument for archivists and historians. Maybe one day I'll find a book that helps me to "get it" but until then The Sword of Rhiannon receives two stars out of five.

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