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What I Need (from Manga and Other Fiction)

A few weeks back, I bought Ouran High School Host Club vol. 10 and the first few volumes of The Wallflower. As usual, Ouran filled me with glee and warm fuzzies, but Wallflower soon left me cold (I tried - I read through vol. 5). And I began to wonder why. They're both screwball high school romantic comedies, involving an odd girl (boyish, downright Haruhi in Ouran, über-goth Sunako in Wallflower) who ends up interacting with a group of guys (the manga male harem trope) because she has to: Haruhi has to pay the Host Club back for the pricey antique vase she broke; Sunako's aunt is letting the guys stay rent-free at her house if they make Sunako into a "lady."

I think I've decided that the key is the way each girl interacts with her harem, and the way the boys interact with each other. Sunako is an object to the guys, at least at first (and seemed to be staying that way for most of them, even at vol. 5) - she's the Project. And she doesn't feel any more warmly toward them: they're irritants, antithetical to what she enjoys. She lumps them all together as "Creatures of Light." Haruhi, on the other hand, has a variety of interactions with the boys in the Host Club: Tamaki has a crush he tries to deny, Kyoya sees her as a club asset, the twins find her amusing (at first), Hunny simply likes her, and Mori feels protective toward her. In fact, they all make attempts, at various times, to take care of her. And she soon begins to treat them all more or less as a pack of older brothers: often annoying, sometimes amusing, dependable in a pinch, and worthy of affection.

Similarly, the interactions among the guys themselves differs sharply in both series. The guys in Wallflower don't seem to care about each other beyond the sort of facile comrades-in-arms loyalty that classmates tend to have toward each other, whether they actually like each other or not. The guys in Ouran, on the other hand, are at the very least team mates, and often friends. They know each other's family problems, and even those that are too cool to express concern about each other (Kyoya, the twins) show by their actions that they care. Even the fact that they often torment each other is part of this: they often act like brothers to each other, as well as to Haruhi.

So - close camaraderie between the principals is very important to my enjoyment of a story. And I began to wonder what other aspects of a story are really important to me. I think I've come up with four really important areas: camaraderie, emotional engagement, ideas, and humor. Not every story needs to have all four, but the more bases are covered, the better. And humor by itself is just not enough.

So, here's the list. And I'm going to use examples from a wide range of fiction and manga.

Camaraderie: It can be siblings (Scout and Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird), buddies (Ryo and Dee in Fake; Goth and the Captain in The Witches of Karres), a circle of friends (the guys in Ouran), comrades-in-arms (Kyo's band of companions in Samurai Deeper Kyo; the 11th Division in Bleach), mentor and pupil (Shoka and Taizu in The Paladin), or any combination thereof (the Sanzo ikkou in Saiyuki, for example, fall into several categories). Because this is a big feature of shounen manga, I tend to like this type of series. Romance could be involved, but usually isn't.

Emotional Engagement: I like characters who care. They must have passion. I don't necessarily mean romance, now. They can care about Being The Best (Onime-no-Kyo of SDK and dozens of other shounen heroes), about overthrowing the current regime (Sanada Yukimura in SDK, Taizu in Paladin), about finding out what's going on (Gingko in Mushishi, Shadow in American Gods, Inspector Pibble in One Foot in the Grave), about their friends (Yukimura again; the Host Club boys in Ouran; the Sanzo ikkou), about their families (Isshin in Bleach; Atticus in Mockingbird), about justice and goodness and freedom (Atticus again; the Captain in Karres), and so on. I don't have any use for the cool-headed and completely cynical, or the nihilistic.

Ideas: Tell me something interesting! This can cover plot twists, weird science, convoluted family trees, strange politics, unusual creatures, world building, mythology, and so on. I'd include beautiful descriptions under this as well. If a book has lots of this and not so much on the emotional front, I might describe it as "an affair of the head, not the heart." Examples are Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and American Gods.

Humor: Make me smile - or laugh out loud. This can be wry and dry (Mockingbird, Peter Dickinson's mysteries), black (Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service), slapstick (Bleach), snarky (Saiyuki), or whatever. But humor's the weakest thing on this list: it's rare that humor alone is enough to carry a story for me.

So - there we have it. Wallflower fails for me because as far as I can tell, humor is the only thing it has going for me. (OK, Sunako cares about her gothy stuff. But no one else much cares about anything.)

Now, it's quite possible for a story to have all of this and still fail for me. It may have negative factors that the positives can't overcome. I don't think I'm going to try to get into a negative factors list, though. Ugh. With the presidential campaign going on, there's already enough negativity ... .

So ... talk to me about this. Are these big factors for you, too? If you've been reading my reviews, do you think I've left anything out? Do you have different factors that are important for you?




( 36 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 23rd, 2008 09:15 pm (UTC)

Well, for me, there are four main components.

The most important aspect for me is the ideas category. I like stuff that makes me think; philosophy especially gets me going. Storytelling to me is pretty equal with that. I like to know the background and the world of the manga. If the manga-ka or novelist starts in media res, s/he needs to draw me in by making the world interesting somehow. I suspect this is in part because I am a table-top gamer/GM and I dig world-building and story-telling a lot.

I tend to like shounen manga, but I have been known to dip my toe into shoujo,(Fushigi Yugi, which I stopped watching halfway through; Pretear; and Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden, which is still ongoing, and which is vastly superior to Fushigi Yugi).

Character development is very important to me. I think that's what I love about Saiyuki... the characters grow and evolve through the journey west, they don't just stay the same. And you get to see them at their best and their worst, and the manga-ka isn't sparing of showing them that way. I think it makes them a lot more sympathetic, especially Sanzo, who has a horrible personality. I like to see how the characters work together (or not) as well, so I suppose for me that character engagement is an aspect of this category.

Humor is important for me also. I am rather partial to black humor (Saiyuki), but just general fun is good too sometimes, as a relief from the angst.

Lastly for me, in manga, drawing style/quality. It really detracts from the story for me if I don't like or enjoy the drawing style, and I usually don't stick with it.

Apr. 24th, 2008 02:22 pm (UTC)

It's interesting about the art issue. I have always been on the fringes of artsiness - I did well enough at it to get into the state-sponsored Maryland Center for the Arts summer camp (which is now part of this program, I think) as a teen, and I follow children's book illustration in a casual sort of way, and can recognize the work of my favorite artists. But somehow in manga, the story seems to take precedence. Minekura's art is gorgeous in its way - especially her color work - but she's not as much of an artist's artist as, say Takehiko Inoue (Vagabond), Hiroaki Samura (Blade of the Immortal), or Park Joong-Ki (Shaman Warrior). (Curiously, those are all very violent shounen manga!) And Akamine Kamijyo's work (Samurai Deeper Kyo) is usually just "pretty," at best. But Saiyuki and SDK remain my top series, for the character interactions and story and so on.

The only series I've read where I had an overwhelmingly negative reaction to the art was Hoshin Engi, which struck me as having a goofy, overly busy style. The story is also taking a long time to get into the usual shounen band-of-buddies thing, but I've been assured that it will, so I'm persisting with it. Gravitation's art is pretty weak (messy is the word that comes to mind), but what killed it for me more was the story: it had, fairly early on, some serious, passionate, angsty bits that I enjoyed, and then it cartwheeled into free-floating zaniness. It was like cotton candy in goofy flavors and neon colors - I couldn't take it after the first few bites!

For me, humor, like mushy romance, is ever so much better with a setting of angst or even tragedy to lend it depth. Laughs and snuggles should earned! (That sounds a bit severe, doesn't it? I feel like Westley in Princess Bride: "Life is pain, Highness!")

Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden is pretty good! I was glad to see another volume out recently, but I could have done without that sorta warped Ceres excerpt at the back.

(You're a gamer too? So'm I ... I even used to write supplements/scenarios for pay (like these ... under my maiden name) ... I love world building but it's sterile without tasty character inetractions.)

Apr. 24th, 2008 03:52 pm (UTC)

Shaman Warrior? You have read some now? Opinion?

*still pondering main subject of post*
Apr. 24th, 2008 03:59 pm (UTC)

Loved it! I need to do a proper blog entry for it - I've read the first 2. I think telophase should read it - the situation with Yaki and the big guy should play right into her big tough guy/little cute kid buddies thing.

Apr. 24th, 2008 04:06 pm (UTC)
YAY! Yes, it's very much a telophase book. I'm...well, not exactly "stalled out" at volume 3, but I got sidetracked by Claymore(and I apparently deleted my Shaman Warrior icon to make room for Claymore icons...that's OK, I'd rather have one of Yaki, anyway.) Even though it makes it seem like nothing happens in Vol 1, I rather like the way it was set up to show the "last stand," and then we start in on how it was used to make the Shaman Warriors hunted outcasts. I think I'll get caught up on it and Cantarella now that there's to more Claymore for me to read.
Apr. 28th, 2008 04:35 pm (UTC)

I just picked up vols. 3-5 yesterday. I need to make myself blog them soon!

May. 1st, 2008 08:06 am (UTC)
Heh, now, the increasing crackiness of Gravitation actually helped make it a little more readable for me, in an odd sort of way; in the first few volumes I was really having trouble taking the Yuki/Shuichi relationship seriously because it moved so fast and didn't really feel at first like there was any real emotional connection there. But somewhere around the point where Ryuichi and a friend where running around an amusement park in bear costumes, I was able to just sort of switch mental gears and tell myself "it's pure comedy crack, it doesn't have to make sense", and it became much more enjoyable. ;)

Curiously, those are all very violent shounen manga!

I don't really know Vagabond or SW yet, but from what little I've seen of BotI it seems to be very much in an artistic vein that I would trace back to Kazuo Koike's influential seinen manga of the 1970s -- chanbara series like Lone Wolf and Cub, Samurai Executioner and Lady Snowblood, and perhaps to a lesser extent his modern-setting late-80s series Crying Freeman. He worked with a few different artists, but the stories were all fairly dark and extremely violent, relatively realistic -- no monsters or serious supernatural elements -- and the artists in turn used styles that were realistic rather than stylized or cartoony.
May. 2nd, 2008 03:24 am (UTC)

ipperne, who is a big Gravitation fan (she's the one who pointed out the uncanny resemblance between Sanzo and Eiri, especially when they both have their specs on), theorized that the crack helped make the openly gay romance more palatable to those who might be uneasy about such things. But for me, it was like every time the mangaka got some heat going (for example, during the aftermath of the assault on Shuichi), she'd cut it off at the knees. (It's true that until the assault, I saw absolutely no sign that Eiri was interested in the little twerp at all ... .)

I should have shown you the Vagabond artbook - you don't need to know the plot to appreciate it. Inoue's a very talented watercolorist, quite apart from his storytelling skills.

I'll take your word for it on the chanbara front - as telophase does, you're teaching me quite a lot! Interestingly, Wikipedia's page on Category:Chanbara anime and manga, lists many of my favorites! SDK, BotI, and Vagabond are all there, along with the ones you've just mentioned. I tried reading a bit of Samurai Executioner in the store once, and it was just too damn grim.

May. 1st, 2008 08:44 am (UTC)
Forgot to add...
Oh, speaking of Gravi -- have you folks read any of the spinoff "light novel" translations? I've got one that I picked up on BookMooch, it was an amusing enough little time-killer to read on the train but definitely not anything I'd reread; but if you (or more likely, the YL) want to take a gander at it, you're welcome to borrow it before I throw it back in the pond...
May. 2nd, 2008 03:26 am (UTC)
Re: Forgot to add...

No, I haven't read any of them, although I've seen them in stores. ipperne was also saying that the author does some extremely cracky pr0n doujinshi as well! Sure, I'll take a look at it ... thanks!


May. 2nd, 2008 04:26 am (UTC)
Re: Forgot to add...
...the crack helped make the openly gay romance more palatable to those who might be uneasy about such things

Well, considering Gravitation came along about twenty years after BL/shounen-ai/yaoi was established as a very successful genre, I'm not sure how necessary it would be to do such a thing as a matter of marketing... Perhaps it's more a matter of providing an antidote to all of the angsty uber-serious yaoi titles out there; a little something for the folks who prefer crack and comedy rather than overblown melodramatic soap opera?

And I am a huge lifelong fan of chanbara movies/drama/animanga, but yeah, grim does tend to come with the territory, and in a helluva lot of these the closest you get to a happy ending is "dies honorably" or "dies after finally getting vengeance" or "dies alongside loved one"... I've only got a couple of volumes of Samurai Executioner so far, but it's kind of a spinoff/prequel to Lone Wolf and Cub, focusing on a character who is one of the early opponents of LWAC's protagonist...and from what I've seen so far, SE is *less* grim and gut-wrenching than LWAC. (I do own the entire run of LWAC and I'd offer to loan it to you, since it's a great story and a deeply influential series...but I fear it might be too dark for your tastes. Several of the story arcs and the conclusion left *me* bawling, and you know I have a fairly high tolerance for depressing tragedies!)

(Oh, before I forget, the spinoff novel I've got here is Voice of Temptation. Total brain-candy fluff, amusing enough to kill an hour or two when you aren't feeling up to anything deep.)
May. 5th, 2008 05:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Forgot to add...

Yeah ... I don't like sad stuff that doesn't eventually resolve into at least peace. Real life is depressing enough - I mean, take my father, who stuck with my mother through all her awful mental illnesses, where she was emotionally abusive to him, and then when he finds and marries Martha, he's crippled and in a wheelchair less than a year later and suffers for 3 more years and then dies. Real life can really suck, and I don't feel any need to have to deal with that kind of stuff in my escapism ... . I like my fictional happiness to be earned, so that there's a catharsis when it's finally attained, but I definitely want the characters to get somewhere good at the end.

May. 6th, 2008 05:42 am (UTC)
Re: Forgot to add...
*nods* Whereas for me, while much/most of the time I do want a bit of escapism and a happy ending to make up for all of the bad stuff...there are certain moods where the catharsis of a not-so-happy ending, or even flat-out tragedy is really what hits the spot; but I tend to find the saga or horror or chanbara version, where the tragic ending is often sort of part and parcel of a completed quest for revenge or such, a lot more palatable than the more existential modern-novel sort of "sucky things happen meaninglessly, the end" sort of plot.

Samurai Executioner, from what I've seen so far, seems to be a lot more episodic than Lone Wolf and Cub; a lot of stories aren't so much focused on Decapitator Asaemon himself as they are on the criminals that he's eventually called in to dispatch, so the tone varies a lot; some of the chapters are more like gritty little crime stories, others are fairly melodramatic tragedies. Lone Wolf is much more of an epic revenge tragedy, with nasty political intrigues setting the whole plot in motion and driving things on towards the eventual end; Ogami Ittō's family is destroyed and disgraced by the Yagyū clan's machinations to take over his high position with the shogunate, but the Yagyū clanleader's family is in turn cut down one by one as he sends them out to try to defeat Ittō's quest to take revenge on their clan and expose their treachery. Ittō and his toddler son Daigoro do get dragged into various side-stories of other characters in their own struggles for revenge or justice, but the focus is always squarely on the ronin father and son in their path through hell. It's much more emotional, on average, than what I've seen of SE, since Asaemon is an orphan by the end of the first volume, while LWAC derives a lot of its emotional punch from the bond between Ittō and Daigoro.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 24th, 2008 03:04 pm (UTC)

I hear you. That makes me think about what someone once said about the distinguishing feature of the better episodes of the original Star Trek: the best stories are the ones where the protagonist(s) have to make a choice or a decision. Both tension between characters and the need for a decision by a character mean that there will be change and evolution as those things are resolved, so the story is more interesting.

(Deleted comment)
Apr. 24th, 2008 06:26 pm (UTC)

Indeed. In fact, that makes me think of the Kami-Sama Arc, which is my favorite of the "present day" story lines. It's filled with both tensions and decisions. Should Gojyo leave the ikkou to confront Kami-sama and hence prevent any other children from being exploited? Should the ikkou press on without him, or go back after him? Hakkai and Sanzo have to argue out the priorities of mission vs. comrades, and later there's that horribly poignant, painful fistfight between Sanzo and Gojyo, just before the Mahjong game. And then the monumental decision not only to go after Kami-sama - but to go after him to win.

(Deleted comment)
Apr. 24th, 2008 09:57 pm (UTC)

I'm glad I'm not the only one who reads 'em over - and over - and over again!

> Sings to Saiyuki tankoubon: <

"Over and over and over again -
I fell in love with you!
Over and over and over again -
What else could I do ... ?

The Mr. said he hardly minds my manga habit because "it's not like you don't get a lot of use out of them!"

(Deleted comment)
Apr. 25th, 2008 09:40 pm (UTC)

Yeah, the resonances thing is what keeps me coming back - that and the emotional charge, which doesn't seem to diminish.

I do sometimes notice new things, too. Did you ever see coffeeandink's analysis of how the opening of "Be There" works from a graphical viewpoint? (The link is to part 3, because it has the links for parts 1 and 2 at the top.) Saiyuki is very interesting as a piece of sequential art.

(Deleted comment)
Apr. 28th, 2008 04:49 pm (UTC)

Interesting! I'll have to keep an eye out for that!

telophase has a pile of interesting links to online articles by herself and others about reading manga. All of it was a real Godsend when I first started reading manga and I still like to go back and see how different ideas in the articles resonate with what I've been reading.

Apr. 24th, 2008 08:26 pm (UTC)
I completely agree about the camaraderie bit. That pretty much always seals the deal for me on whether I like something or not. A big cast is also kind of important to me (haha, a la Ranma 1/2 I guess), but that may be because I'm the kind of person who loves having like six or seven really close friends that feel like family (which, of course, may be an extension of coming from a large family...it goes on and on).
Apr. 25th, 2008 03:36 am (UTC)

Well, if a big cast does it for you and you feel like digging into some shounen, you could try SDK ... this pic (one of the covers) shows only about half the main cast ... . I'm joking a little, because I know you're more of a shoujo fan. But you might like it .,. stranger things have happened. meganbmoore did a series of posts highlighting good scenes from it - here's one, from vol. 12. It's a fan scanslation, so the wording is slightly different from the Tokyopop version.

I actually had quite a small family - just me and my sister and our folks - but we usually vacationed and had holiday meals and things with my parents' old friends from NYC and their kids, and my husband and I are following much the same pattern with various family friends.

Apr. 25th, 2008 06:25 pm (UTC)
I actually don't mind shounen at all, I just tend to read my manga for sheer instant gratification, so shoujo suits my cravings better XD

Well yeah, my immediate family isn't too huge, but I do have four parents, and my mum's family is giant.
Apr. 25th, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC)

I tend to like things with both angst and snark, and convoluted plots, so hence Saiyuki and SDK for manga, C.J. Cherryh's Cyteen for SF, and Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles for historical fiction.

Apr. 26th, 2008 06:29 am (UTC)
I LOVE WALLFLOWER!!! Keep reading on, its fabulous!
Apr. 28th, 2008 04:51 pm (UTC)

Mmmm ... well, preferences in manga and stuff can't really be argued. I mean, either you liike something or you don't. The Young Lady picked up a few more volumes at Katsucon and I guess I could look at them ... right now, though, Shaman Warrior seems to be calling my name a lot more loudly!

Edited at 2008-04-28 04:51 pm (UTC)
May. 1st, 2008 08:24 am (UTC)
Hrm, I'm not sure if I could even narrow things down to such an extent for my own reading -- I don't really focus on a single genre, my tastes are rather ridiculously broad, and for every tendency I can think of there are numerous examples of books I love that contradict it. I love comedy and happy endings...except when I'm in the mood for utterly bleak tragedies. I like strong female characters, particularly ones who defy gender stereotyping in some way...but often have no problem whatsoever falling into something where the cast is almost entirely male. I like to have main characters who are sympathetic and likeable...but there are some authors like Martin Amis who can produce absolutely ghastly, horrid human beings who are just compelling to watch in a train-wrecky sort of way. I like things that touch my heart...but then there are some writers that I adore mainly for the beauty of their language, and other great favorites like Stanislaw Lem that are more intellectual passions, where I just love the sparkling play of ideas.

For manga and comics, at least, I'm with avierra in that art is a big factor. It doesn't necessarily have to be *pretty*, and again my tastes are broad enough to go for a wide range of stuff from the most cartoony to lush-and-stylized to gritty-and realistic, and various points in between; but if I don't like the art, or at least don't DISlike it, it's very hard for me to get into a visual medium, no matter how strong the characters or story are. (On the flip side, if the art is something I find deeply appealing, I find it much much easier to forgive lapses in storytelling or characterization. Frank Miller has some serious Issues as a writer, for instance, but I can forgive him a lot for the stark beauty of his black-and-white work; or Joseph Michael Linsner, his storytelling and characterization are all sort of vague, but his paintings are just incredibly lush.) It's probably no accident that for Western comics, I tend to go more for the creator-owned indies that either have the same person writing and drawing, or else the writer works consistently with the same artist or a very small pool of artists; I tend to get annoyed by the really drastic changes in style on the longer-running big mainstream titles.
May. 2nd, 2008 03:09 am (UTC)

But these guidelines go for any genre! They have nothing to do with concepts like male vs. female characters, happy vs. sad endings, and so on. I was hoping I'd made that point by using things as disparate as To Kill a Mockingbird and SDK as examples.

Writing style is something I didn't cover in this either, any more than manga art quality. I have a feeling that again, it's not a make-or-break issue for me, even though I can appreciate it. For example, Patricia McKillip is a superb stylist - she's written some of the most beautiful fictional prose I've ever encountered - but I haven't been in love with any of her books since the Riddlemaster trilogy finished up. She left behind the passion and camraderie of those books and started going for mystery and beauty exclusively, and I just can't love any of her later books. Just. Can't.

That's an interesting point, about comics. I haven't been liking U.S. comics in general, and JT (our GM, who loaned me his precious Sandman issues when I was first reading them) has had plenty of them around for me to check out, so it's not like I haven't seen a bunch of different ones. Sandman has been the onl thing I liked (well, that and the introductory Books of Magic.) I don't know what it is about the art I find off-putting. It may be something as basic as childhood trauma - my over-active imagination did me a disservice at about the age of 10 with a Green Lantern story arc involving a villain who had released a killer virus. I was terrified. My father let me know that he was very displeased with the comic book for scaring his kid, and I have a vivid memory of him tearing it up and stuffing it into the kitchen garbage with the gronky eggshells and coffee grounds.

May. 2nd, 2008 04:59 am (UTC)
But these guidelines go for any genre!

Ah, see, that was the point that I was clearly too groggy and medicated (whee allergies) to make clearly: it's very very hard for me to come up with anything that broad and universal for my tastes, in part because I have somewhat conflicting tastes so it's a matter of what I'm in the mood for at a particular moment, and partly because I do often seem to have different standards for different genres. I'm much more forgiving of flat writing or shallow characterization in mysteries, for instance -- oh, I'll snark at it, and it typically means that book will not be kept or reread, but I'll keep turning the pages just to see the plot spin out. But in fantasy I'm much more hyper-critical, and apt to throw things against the wall for the same sort of flaws that I will tolerate in a lot of other genres. Does that make any sense? There are various tropes that I tend to like, but I'm not sure I can narrow any of them down to the point where I can say I really need to have X Y and Z elements across the board in any sort of story; sometimes I can narrow it down a little and say that in certain genres or types of stories, I need certain elements, but it's really hard for me to expand any of that to a universal guideline.

Writing style is something that isn't always make-or-break for me, but I'm definitely rather sensitive to; there's a sort of flat, competent mass-market contemporary style that sort of sets my teeth on edge a bit; I'll tolerate it in some places, like mysteries, if the plot is a sufficient draw to put up with it, but in fantasy in particular that same sort of style will put me completely out of the mood, and that's one of the big things that drove me further and further away from reading fantasy novels as a teen. Ursula Le Guin's "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" really helped me pin down the style I was objecting to -- if you can take a passage from a random fantasy novel, swap out any of the more fantastical names and nouns for mundane modern equivalents and end up with a passage that wouldn't seem out of place in the likes of some airport thriller novel, that's probably a book I will have a LOT of trouble getting into, no matter what other good points it might have.

Comics are a little weird for me, because I came to them sort of backwards from the usual pattern for US fans of my age -- instead of starting out with the usual big superhero titles as a child or early teen, and then eventually branching out into the weirder indy stuff, I didn't really pick them up until my teens and I pretty much started with the 80s small-press indy books, and didn't even so much as dip my toes into the more mainstream stuff until much later. So I'm really used to a certain level of consistency of art and writing style within an individual series; I can enjoy a very broad spectrum of artistic styles, but the massive shifts in writing and characterization and art that the big DC/Marvel/etc. titles are prone to is still a little off-putting.
May. 5th, 2008 05:11 pm (UTC)

I love LeGuin as an essayist. I keep thinking I should get one of her "on writing"-types of books. Yes, she was targeting Katherine Kurtz' "Deryni" series in the example that she used for the "it quacks like a political thriller" section of that essay, and she was quite right. What's interesting is that Peter Dickinson - who is also a mystery writer, after all - is one of the best stylists I know of - in fantasy, too! He definitely has a more "mythical" style that he uses in his fantasy, though.

We had our D&D game this weekend, and I mentioned the business about me and not liking comments to Beth & Mike, who are our most senior players. Mike said "Fables" got him back into reading comics as an adult, but Beth cautioned that if I didn't hit the start of a story arc, I'd probably have a tough time. On the other hand, they're both more cerebral than I am ... that entire crew is a bunch of INTx types (maybe one of two ISTx types).

May. 7th, 2008 04:52 am (UTC)
*nods* And in high fantasy, at least, I'm definitely looking for a more mythical or folkloric style; if it's too modern, too realistic, it puts me out of the story. Humorous fantasy doesn't have to be quite so elevated, but there I'm still likeliest to click if it's a more tale-telling, self-aware and amused sort of tone, rather than that sort of default flat modern commercial prose -- Leiber hit that note in his Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books for me, Terry Pratchett does it in Discworld, Lem in some of his SF satires, Bulgakov in The Master and Margarita, or even outside fantasy, George MacDonald Fraser in The Pyrates; it's all a little broadly drawn, even a touch cartoony and larger-than-life at times.

About the only way I seem able to deal with a more modern tone in fantasy is if it's something with a contemporary setting -- urban fantasy, horror or paranormal romance titles, that sort of thing. The prose won't put me out of the story immediately if it seems to match the setting -- although even so, I still click much more strongly with the folks who have a distinct quirky voice of their own, like Poppy Brite, rather than the ones who are producing more generic, if serviceable, prose.

I still haven't picked up Fables, but people have been reccing it to me for quite a while; the samples that have shown up so far on Scans_Daily look pretty interesting...
May. 8th, 2008 02:32 am (UTC)

It'd be interesting to see what you make of Martha Wells' tone in her gaslight/early 20th-tech fantasies, because in the Fall of Ile Rien series, you have the story running back and forth between a tech society (albeit an early one) and a more traditional fantasy setting.

May. 8th, 2008 05:54 am (UTC)
Well, after hearing you and Red go on about it for so long, I just read and enjoyed Sabriel recently, speaking of a shift between a more modern-techy society and a fantastical-magic one. The tone there definitely worked well enough for me; it wasn't ultra-flat-modern nor high-archaic-mythic, but it struck a good balance for me to be comfortable with the shifts between worlds without it feeling out of place in either...
May. 9th, 2008 01:47 am (UTC)

Well, you have to read the sequels! There's a character in there who might have been written for you! That's her on the cover of Lirael, next to our pale-skinned brunette heroine ... .

They are also quite good.

May. 10th, 2008 04:38 am (UTC)
Ah ha! When I grilled Red she agreed the sequels were also good and well worth reading, but she didn't mention the PUPPY! Reading now... XD
May. 10th, 2008 06:48 pm (UTC)
And I'm about halfway through now. EEEEE, THE DOG! THE DOG IS LOVE! And so very intensely *canine* in her POV and habits, despite being a magical intelligent talking beastie; she's still very much a DOG at the core of things, rather than a small furry human in a doggy shape.

It's perhaps a bit sacriligeous, but I'm liking this much much better than the first book -- not that I didn't enjoy it a great deal, and like the heroine, but I couldn't really *identify* with Sabriel in any way -- she was too competent, too secure in the knowledge of her father's love, too comfortable back in her old Ancelstierre school despite being an outsider and too effortless in her adjustment to being back in the Old Kingdom. I liked her, I didn't find any of that unbelievable, but I couldn't really see anything of myself in that. Whereas Lirael, well, she shares so many of my worst sore spots and insecurities, it's almost a little scary. And I'm soooooooo glad she has the Dog to make things a little better, because she's so much like me and I'd find it all pretty unbearable without a puppy to talk to and cry on, too...

I have a feeling I may not finish catching up on comments until I'm done with this one. Catch you in a bit... ;)
May. 11th, 2008 02:28 am (UTC)

I'm so glad! Yes, Sabriel was a great book, but the character isn't so approachable. There is much coolness in Lirael as well, with the whole library business. And the Disreputable Dog is one of the greatest fantasy characters - along with Mogget, for whom I have a certain liking as well!

I've got to warn you, though, that Lirael doesn't really end so much as flow into Abhorsen ... .

May. 12th, 2008 04:59 am (UTC)
Yeah, I found that little continuation-rather-than-sequel bit out last night...grrrf! If I'd known that, I'd have grabbed 'em both at the same time, but I have a copy pending on BookMooch so I thought I'd wait. That one's been sitting for quite a while, though, the sender seems to have gone on vacation or something, so I may just grab a new one anyway, and just give away the duplicate if it does eventualy turn up...
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