September 11th, 2011

Admiral Ackbar

Valuable lessons from a mostly bad book

A Treasury of Fantasy, it's called. It's a 1981 anthology with bad art, both on the cover and in the book -- the cover image seems to be a badly-painted proto-Christopher Lambert with a sword, and I took off and put aside the cover because I thought it was embarrassing -- and to keep myself sane, I've been skipping around in it. Also letting myself give up on stories and short novels in it, and as I like to read a book completely, that can be hard for me to do. Thoughts so far:

  • I simply avoided the Robert E. Howard story "Swords of the Purple Kingdom," because within the past few years his stories have been released with what I hear is far more tender loving care than they had been before. I want to be sure that the first Kull story I read is genuinely what REH wanted to publish, and I'm not 100% sure that this 1981 reprint will be so.

  • I didn't really need reminding of it, but man, H.P. Lovecraft has unfortunately inspired some really bad art. Cheesy art, too. Flat, obvious scaly oogie-boogies have stood in for the almost un-see-able monsters and aliens of his work; the way Lovecraft often described them, their form and symmetry is so wrong that it almost hurts to look at them. The Lovecraft art in this book (for "The Doom that Came to Sarnath") looks like a seaweed-covered Muppet. This doesn't work.

  • A giant chunk of this anthology is the George MacDonald novel Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women. I gave up on that. Writing lesson: if you hold off your plot in your book starring a character exploring a Faerie land until when (a few dozen pages in) that character starts reading a book in Faerie Land, and THAT plot in THAT book seems to go on for a few dozen pages on its own...then what's the point of that plot? Unless it turns out that the character reading the story has that plot happen to him or something. I didn't read far enough to find out. Yeah, plot-within-a-plot can be done well -- I read and loved Don Quixote, which has GIANT digressions into stories that its characters tell -- but I got bored with it, and went skipping along.

  • To someone I'm much more likely to like, Lord Dunsany. I've read and appreciated his novel The Charwoman's Shadow; I also know Lord Dunsany is a big influence on Arthur C. Clarke, one of the first authors who I gravitated to as a kid. And he's especially refreshing after the MacDonald story: STUFF IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING, more quickly than in Phantastes. Yep, I need plot.

  • Life is too short for pointless books that take too long to get somewhere. This is still possible in an anthology. I'll be happy to go on to the next book, whatever it is.