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Fantasy universes and worlds

Posted: Mon Jan 29, 2007 8:18 pm
by Windwalker
Ursula Le Guin's second fantasy universe

Le Guin developed the Hainish universe in science fiction and the Earthsea trilogy in fantasy -- and in the last few years she dreamed yet another universe. This is "low" fantasy, so in terms of atmosphere it hovers between Earthsea and her real-world fiction.

The stories of this universe are called The Annals of the Western Shore. I read the first in the series, Gifts. The second one, Voices, has just come out. The questions the stories ask are timeless... and time has made Le Guin a matchless stylist and character creator.

Jacqueline Carey

Posted: Sun Feb 11, 2007 11:20 pm
by Windwalker
For those who are interested in an alternative world that is both lush and literate, I recommend Jacqueline Carey's trilogy, Kushiel's Dart, Kushiel's Chosen and Kushiel's Avatar.

The trilogy unfolds in an alternative Renaissance-era earth, in which interesting cultures like the Celtic and the Minoan are still flourishing. Almost all the cultures have polytheistic religions. The gods of the heroine's culture are fallen angels who chose to stay among humans.

The trilogy is narrated first-person by the equivalent of a sacred prostitute, a sanctioned and respected vocation and profession. It starts slowly, but accelerates and deepens as it goes. Carey knows her history and her languages. The plot and ideas are interesting and the characters well-developed. I found the trilogy unusual and intriguing.

Posted: Tue Feb 13, 2007 9:33 pm
by intrigued_scribe
Fitting that you should mention that now--I'm actually in the middle of the Kushiel's Trilogy! :) Along with the engaging elements you've mentioned in your post, I'm finding myself increasingly drawn in by the human factors of this epic, particularly the hard-won personal growth and wisdom that comes to the narrator and her chosen companion.

That aside, the ongoing battle--and similarities--between Phedre and her foremost adversary--is equally as gripping. I'll say no more to avoid spoiling any part of the deeply intricate plotlines, but to me, the conflicts (both internal and otherwise) that this draws the protagonist into serve to make her that much more real.

-Heather

Posted: Tue Feb 13, 2007 10:27 pm
by Windwalker
intrigued_scribe wrote:Fitting that you should mention that now--I'm actually in the middle of the Kushiel's Trilogy! :)

Interesting synchronicity, indeed! I agree that the main narrator grows wiser and more interesting as she goes. When I read the trilogy, two years ago, it was the first time that I saw truly "unorthodox" relationships in mainstream fantasy. That encouraged me to think that my work might perhaps be publishable. If my stories ever become books, I will send Ms. Carey a copy with a thank-you note (*smiles*).

Kushiel's Trilogy

Posted: Tue Feb 13, 2007 11:25 pm
by Marie
Dear Athena,
Thank you for bringing this excellent trilogy back to my attention. I had finished Kushiel's Dart about 5 years ago. Originally, I was a little overwhelmed by the extensive cast of characters but after getting immersed in the tale, relished the creativity of Carey's imagination. As I have mentioned to you before, I love the colorful backgrounds of stories which include thriving worlds, historical genealogies and absorbing plots. Add a few maps to the pages and I am one happy reader.
However, after purchasing Kushiel's Chosen and Avatar, life turned hectic and I put them on the shelf, there to remain unread.
Now, that there is some settlement in my everyday existence, I am more than ready to pick up where I left off, 5 years past.
And yes, it is another reason that your stories resonate and touch a kindred cord. I was immediately taken by the style and content you portrayed and have been a faithful admirer ever since.

Marie

Re: Kushiel's Trilogy

Posted: Tue Feb 13, 2007 11:52 pm
by Windwalker
Marie wrote:I love the colorful backgrounds of stories which include thriving worlds, historical genealogies and absorbing plots. Add a few maps to the pages and I am one happy reader.

I thought the first book was the slowest -- although it had to establish a lot of ground. The other two truly gallop along, and they venture further and further afield. I found the trilogy a tour de force in terms of culture building.

Posted: Wed Feb 14, 2007 2:54 pm
by rocketscientist
Le Guin is writing again? That's something I will certainly look into! I'd be interested in what she would choose to focus on at this point in her very long and illustrious career.

The other trilogy seems very interesting! Alternative Renaissance sounds fascinating.

Thanks for the recommendations. I had hoped to go to the bookstore this week but the lousy weather is keeping us all in. :cry:

Posted: Wed Feb 14, 2007 3:03 pm
by Windwalker
rocketscientist wrote:Le Guin is writing again? That's something I will certainly look into! I'd be interested in what she would choose to focus on at this point in her very long and illustrious career.

The other trilogy seems very interesting! Alternative Renaissance sounds fascinating.

The two new LeGuin books are labeled "young adult", but like all of her work they are more than that. Her voice and craft have become so well honed that even minor works resonate. I found Gifts disturbing in a very good way, and I plan to read Voices.

I agree that Alternative Renaissance is fascinating, especially because most fantasy defaults to faux-medieval mode. I absolutely loved Carey's cultures, partly because they seem natural extensions of what real cultures might become. Additionally, women are real powers in her universe, and diplomacy is considered as valid as war.

Re: Jacqueline Carey

Posted: Fri Mar 02, 2007 1:39 am
by caliban
Windwalker wrote:For those who are interested in an alternative world that is both lush and literate, I recommend Jacqueline Carey's trilogy, Kushiel's Dart, Kushiel's Chosen and Kushiel's Avatar.


I also read this trilogy and found it very readable and entertaining. I enjoyed trying to figure out which historical culture was being represented. Carey did a commendable job of making all, or most, of her alternate societies both historically recognizable and yet her own creation.

Though when I tried to explain the plot to someone else--say my wife--it is hard to do so with a straight face. Phedre is not just a sacred prostitute, her specialty is masochism. This is the secret to her success, her secret power: when she gets in trouble and the bad guys/women hurt her, she likes it. Don't tell me that isn't an intrinsically funny concept.

I also have to say her boyfriend, whose name I have forgotten, is a bore. I found him a bit of a cliche. I much preferred her gypsy friend Hyacinth.

Sorry--I am an incurable dissenter. I did enjoy the books. I devoured them. They were far more original and compelling than the vast majority of the dreck sold as fantasy.

For yet another vivid fantasy world, there is George R.R.Martin's Song of Fire and Ice, which Athena introduce me to when I was going through a rough patch. Think of it as the anti-Tolkien. This medieval world is dirty and gritty. No one is noble. Everyone betrays everyone else. And it is fantastically detailed. And often Martin manages to make characters you would think repulsive to be compelling.

I think I have gotten farther than Athena in the series, and I have the sneaking feeling that Martin has no idea where he is going with it. He has too many characters and life is chaotic and he kills off major characters right and left (all like real life). But the craftsmanship of the writing is astounding.

Re: Jacqueline Carey

Posted: Fri Mar 02, 2007 1:49 am
by Windwalker
caliban wrote: I also have to say her boyfriend, whose name I have forgotten, is a bore. I found him a bit of a cliche. I much preferred her gypsy friend Hyacinth.

Agreed! Joscelin is as colorless as his hair. Of course, Phèdre never quite gets over Hyacinth. I think that Carey pulled her punches by having Phèdre take Joscelin as her consort (*snore*).

caliban wrote:For yet another vivid fantasy world, there is George R.R.Martin's Song of Fire and Ice. // I think I have gotten farther than Athena in the series, and I have the sneaking feeling that Martin has no idea where he is going with it.// But the craftsmanship of the writing is astounding.

Yes, I managed the first two... I can't believe he's planning seven! As bad as Zelazny's Amber series. But he is an unparalleled craftsman, no doubt about that.

Posted: Fri Mar 02, 2007 10:58 am
by rocketscientist
For yet another vivid fantasy world, there is George R.R.Martin's Song of Fire and Ice, which Athena introduce me to when I was going through a rough patch. Think of it as the anti-Tolkien. This medieval world is dirty and gritty. No one is noble. Everyone betrays everyone else. And it is fantastically detailed. And often Martin manages to make characters you would think repulsive to be compelling.


Sounds like my kind of story! I love to hate the protagonist. :p

I can't believe he's planning seven! As bad as Zelazny's Amber series. But he is an unparalleled craftsman, no doubt about that.


Oh no - not the dreaded sequelitis! :P

Song of Fire and Ice

Posted: Fri Mar 02, 2007 11:41 am
by caliban
rocketscientist wrote:
Oh no - not the dreaded sequelitis! :P


Actually it's an unfinished series--we're up to book 4 I think. I have no idea where it is going, and I don't think Martin does either. But it's kind of fun.

The best characters are Tyrion, a dwarf born into a powerful family, who must constantly scheme and plot in order to survive--and remarkably, he's the most likeable, almost ethical of his family--and Daenerys, the last remaining member of an overthrown royal family, bargained into near slavery as the mate of a barbarian horselord--and who is trekking around the world, building an army in which to regain her family's throne. The narrative bounces around between many, many, too many characters' points of view, all well-drawn but difficult to follow.

It's not tightly plotted--a lot happens but, like real history, which I think is Martin's inspiration, shit happens, or, in Martin's world, fewmets happen :) or, as others have said, History is just one thing after another.

But if you like simply sheer good writing and characters that do not read like feeble ripoffs of Tolkien.... This may be the unbearably long series for you!

Posted: Fri Mar 02, 2007 3:11 pm
by intrigued_scribe
George R.R. Martin's work sounds intriguing! The random pattern of unanticipated events and character deaths does indeed strike a parallel to real-life history.

rocketscientist wrote:
Oh no - not the dreaded sequelitis!


And there is also this factor (much like Robert Jordan's good but seemingly never-ending Wheel of Time series ). I may have to add it to my gradually lengthening list of books in progress. :) That aside, though he is considerably less colorful than Hyacinthe--and pairing Phedre with Joscelin rather than Hyacinthe is obviously the easier route taken--it seemed to me that later on in the Kushiel Trilogy, the Casseline does grow and redeem himself a bit and becomes more of a match for Phedre. (Just my two cents, since I happen to like the character. *smiles*)

Heather

Posted: Fri Mar 02, 2007 3:22 pm
by Windwalker
intrigued_scribe wrote:George R.R. Martin's work sounds intriguing!

George Martin actually wrote terrific SF before going into fantasy. His collection Portraits of His Children is a real gem, each story better than the other.

I agree that Joscelin eventually becomes more nuanced and interesting in the Kushiel Trilogy -- while Phèdre becomes more conventional, so they meet in the middle, so to speak. I do wish that Carey had not summarily first tamed, then dropped Melisande Shahrizai, the most complex character in the series.

Posted: Sat Mar 03, 2007 10:47 pm
by rocketscientist
Am reading The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks right now. Keeps me wondering - which I like. So far Ive encountered a 17 line sentence (yes, I said 17 lines) and an uncle who is a walrus. I love it when a writer has a sense of humor. At least I hope he's being funny! :p