...nothing here is promised, not one day... Lin-Manuel Miranda

Oh Woe* Alas and Alack
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I began reading science fiction later than did many of my friends. Science fiction and science fiction fandom - I can no longer imagine life without them, but I wasn't an early reader of Norton or Asimov juveniles. Dunno why - I'm sure they were there in the library and I know my mother would have said "read whatever you want dear" but I never found s.f. as a youth. Found it well, er, I may have written this but after attending a Star Trek convention in New York City, where I heard Harlan Ellison read (damn he's good) I spent my last like $3 or $4, whatever it cost then, on a paperback of, I think it was Dangerous Visions. First one's always cheap, right?

Science fiction (and note, I don't call it sci-fi, and whatever you think of the term, just please respect my wishes and don't use that here, okay? I'll explain if you REALLY want me to but I don't wanna bore anyone) and I met at the right time. When I got serious about looking into the genre, it was the 70s. Within a few years after I started reading it, thanks to DV, and Again DV, having discovered the likes of Joanna Russ and Chip Delany and James Tiptree, Jr. and Vonda McIntyre and Dick Lupoff and Elizabeth Lynn and Ursula Le Guin (see some earlier blog entries for my paeans of praise to Saint Ursula) and Bob Silverberg and Harlan and Ted Sturgeon and Kate Wilhelm and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Marta Randall and John Varley. Wholly shit. Never mind honest to god that I met many of these folks, almost at the same time I was reading their books. It was feminism, it was new worlds, it was thinking in different ways, it was not bug-eyed monsters and rocketships. Or it was but it was fascinating stories about monsters and rocketships. Wowie.

SF and I faded after a while, not completely but Tiptree was gone, and Silverberg was writing epics that weren't quite what I had in mind and Sturgeon was gone. And some of the writers stopped writing and I don't know why; was it the marketplace or choice or the changing winds of politics. Dunno. Just as I don't know 20 some years later why some of the mystery writers I love haven't been writing lately. But when I came to mystery it was largely for the same reason I had started reading sf; well, sort of. It was Marcia Muller. Not totally but at the time I started reading mystery - also not something I'd read much as a kid (my rap on Nancy Drew is another topic, but Laura Lippman already wrote it and she wrote it better) but living I the bay area was reader heaven. Probably still is to some extent. I mean no shit, there I was, plunked down among writers and readers and writers galore, and we mixed a lot. I remember meeting Pronzini and Jim Lamb back them, and Marcia. There was crossover then and now; Dick Lupoff who writes/wrote in both genres, and Quinn Yarbro, Poul Anderson.

I never read much fantasy. There was that YEAR in junior high where Everyone was reading The Hobbit. The next year I think everyone read Siddartha. I tried that hobbit thing and failed. Never read the Rings. Lacked the proper suspension of disbelief for high fantasy. Even then, I had this thing about "realism in my fiction". Except for Le Guin.

But, well that's changed and I'll cop to it. I mean hell, I won't list all the urban fantasies - what Stu dubbed "elves on motorcycles" that I've enjoyed but MANNN, if you haven't read Emma Bull's War for the Oaks, you gotta. And more recently, there's been Aunt Dimity and Charlaine's Sookie Stackhouse books and stuff by Lee Killough (talk about crossover talent) and while I cannot read Rita Mae Brown any more, I have enjoyed a few of the Midnight Louis stories I've encountered. Yeah, it's talking cat but it's a smartass talking cat with attitude.

So in January, Linda Richards invites me to start reviewing sf and fantasy as well as non-fiction and whatever I trip over for January Magazine. What a cool idea; it'll get me back into the field. I borrow a year's worth of Locus magazines from Jerry and Suzle and try to catch up on who' writing, since yeah, I get sf from the library once in a while but I'm so far behind. And so far, I've reviewed about two books a month in the genres for her. But here's the thing: I've reviewed a few revivals of books, some anthologies of "best of" short stories and yes, some new names. Neal Asher, a collection of Gregory Frost. I've got a Charles Stross I'm writing up. And oh gods, I discovered Neal Stephenson last year and fell hard. And I will continue to look for the new names as well as to welcome old friends into the house. But …

I'm oh so willing to admit that my patience levels have dropped of late; since about April, when my pain problem went off the charts and a few weeks later when someone really hurt me and I was feeling like crap about life, the universe and everything. Anyone who's been reading this blog knows that it's been, um, interesting chez roscoe lately. And I've said before I really DO try to read everything I'm sent to review. Man, I've had some good times with books. But what the heckypooh is going on with sf and fantasy?

MAN, am I getting huge high fantasy tomes to read. Often said tome is book seven in a series; or book one in a new series by someone who wrote seven books in the last one. Not one of which is shorter than 450 pages. Don't ask about font size.

I know mystery seems to survive on series fiction, but most of the series entries in that genre aren't 500, 600 pages. And I have trouble getting started in these fantasy books because page after page introduces two, three, five characters, two three, five races, refers to other places with unfamiliar names and I get lost. And it's page 5. I'm what I think of as a "verbal" reader; I tend to hear as I read, so that I pronounce, or try to pronounce, names as I go. My mother is like that too, and it was one reason she had trouble reading the grand sweeping Russian novels, because not only did she want to keep track f every Sasha and Misha and Olga, but it was hard for an unfamiliar reader to realize that Sasha, 100 pages later, it turns out is Alexander and Misha is Mikhail. Of course it's obvious once you know it, but it's a cultural difference and it's truly difficult for some of us who didn't get any sort of training in this stuff.

So when I get book 11 in a series, and in the first four pages I get six different people, and six "different" races mentioned ,and the periods of time are In All Capital letters, I get a sinking feeling. And it's not that I don't have a strong and good imagination; I don't need protagonists named Billy and Jim (or Gym, or Jjimhn) but I'm having trouble with too many queens and sagas and quests. And terrible dangers and Magick, and dragonlords and clans (oh SO many clans) and empires (lots of empires) and Lords (sans dragons) and I'm wondering what I slept through. I can't even define "my" sort of sf and fantasy but there seems relatively little out there. I'm getting lots of reprints, lots of "for the first time in 10 years, this sees print" stuff. When was the fantasy revolution?

It IS me, I'm fairly sure. Because in mystery at times I'm wondering the same thing. When was the serial killer takeover, for example? I see lists and lists of books full of femjep and serial killer and talking cats, or crime-solving cats at least, I wonder where's the stuff I read? Again, don't get me wrong, I'm finding things to read (just read Jim Sallis' new novella) and enjoy. And while there's still too many women in mystery with guy names (can we stop that one, Pleeeeeeeeze??? I'll be your best friend….) but I can at least pronounce those! Unpronounceable names in a high fantasy book won't stop me from trying to read it; but I can pretty much guarantee that if I'm struggling with the book, then having a culture or a character or a Lord whose name is unmanageable, it's gonna write "finis" for me. But I swear I'm going to keep trying.

*The full line is "Oh, Woe, Oh, Woe, Oh Dreadful Fucking Woe" from a performance Stu and I went to by Second City ages and ages ago. Said like, from a skit, I think (who remembers) about punching up the chorus of the Greek tragedy, getting it hipper wasn't it just a tad dull to be muttering "oh, woe, oh woe, oh dreadful woe" all the time. And we still use it regularly.

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