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Acts of Caine: the best damned fantasy you've never read.

Kate of LokysKate of Lokys Registered User
edited April 2011 in Debate and/or Discourse
Are you weary of conventional fantasy, with its square-jawed stalwart heroes and its willowy graceful elven maidens? Would you rather choke yourself to death with a shoelace than read yet another insipid tale about a plucky farmboy who just happens to be the destined savior of the world? Will you gag if you read one more line of dialogue spoken by a dwarf who sounds like he was rejected for a role in Trainspotting because nobody could understand his incomprehensible Scottish accent? Does a typical sword-waving action scene put you to sleep with its dull, detached, paint-by-numbers descriptions of combat?

If you answered yes to any of the above, Acts of Caine might be for you. In Caine's world, heroes die, and the willowy elven maiden runs a whorehouse on the wrong side of town specializing in interspecies perversions. In Caine's world, plucky farmboys live out meaningless lives and grow up to become old meaningless farmers, assuming they don't just get butchered by the first raiding party to ride across their land, and the only destiny is what people make for themselves by force. In Caine's world, violence is as visceral as a brick to the goddamned face, and life is as savage and nasty and brutal as Hobbes' worst nightmare.

And Caine himself? He's the kind of stone-cold motherfucker that the gods of that world have learned to fear.

Ed35Y.gif


The Setting: Earth
"It's all . . . ugly. Everything. Ugly damn world, kid."

Hari shrugged. "Compared to what?"

Just a few short generations past today, Earth is a vicious decaying strip-mined corpse of a planet. Resources are scarce, poverty is rampant, crime and corruption are just a part of daily life for most of its inhabitants. The world has always been divided between the haves and the have-nots, but now the divisions are even sharper: society has been structured into a caste system of Workers and Administrators, Businessmen and Leisuremen. National governments are obsolete; the world and its people are ruled through commerce by an anonymous, shifting Board of Governors composed of the wealthiest few, and order is maintained by the faceless Social Police.

Hard copy books are prohibited, and digital copies are censored or altered to eliminate any potentially subversive content. Instead, the masses and the elite alike are entertained by an unceasing orgy of violence in the form of virtual reality recordings, filmed in first-person perspective through the eyes of professional members of the Actor caste who hack and slash their way through a magical fantasy world, serving as mercenaries or priests or assassins or knights in shining armor.

But the magical fantasy world isn't a Hollywood set, or a simulation: it's real.


The Setting: Overworld
When the Winston Transfer first opened the gate from Earth to Overworld, the Studio had been lurking in the background, waiting to step through. Overworld is a land of dragons and demons, of hippogryphs and mermaids, of hedge wizards and thieves, master enchanters and noble knights.

It is a billion dreams come true.

Overworld is everything Earth is not: fantastical, fertile, rich with resources, home to an astonishing array of creatures. Its environments range from barren deserts to lush primeval forests; its inhabitants include stonebenders capable of melting and shaping granite as though it were clay, pack-hunting ogrilloi armed with tusks and claws, and elf-like primal mages who draw on the magic of Overworld as easily as they draw on its air. It has humans, of several varieties and infinite allegiances; it has gods, some present only in the power they grant to their followers, others walking its streets in the flesh. And once the two worlds were linked, Overworld had Actors, prohibited by intensive psychological conditioning from mentioning their true origins on Earth.


The Business
You, as Actors, have a precisely defined role, irrespective of whether you swing a blade or throw a lightning bolt, joust or heal the sick. It is purely and simply this: Your function in society is to risk your life in interesting ways.

Actors on Overworld don't just find the action; they make it. They creep through the world, crafting identities for themselves, insinuating themselves into the existing groups and societies, building connections, forging alliances, constantly searching for chances to be stars, but always at the mercy of their controlling Studios on Earth. Low-level Actors may be forced to spend years working their way up to menial positions in an Overworld monastery just to be in position to play a bit part in someone else's Adventure, but the lucky ones who make it big are idolized by millions of fans on Earth, pampered by the Administrators of their Studio, feted by the elite who pay obscene sums to be able to "first-hand" their Adventures - hooking into Studio simulators to watch the action unfold in real-time instead of waiting for the delayed, edited second-hand release.

Acting is the kind of job people on Earth dream of. It's an escape from poverty and misery and crippling regulation into a world where anything is possible. Many people would kill to become a famous Actor; even more die trying, either on Overworld itself, or during the intensive training process.


The Training
This is where the student steps forward and utters some fatuous variation on the time-honored "Stop, you fiend! Unhand that woman!" but Hari just stood there for a moment and watched him beat her, holding the cobblestone thoughtfully.

Hammet keyed his mike. "Michaelson, what are you doing?"

"I'm intervening," came Hari's muttered reply. "That's what I'm supposed to do, right?"

"Get on with it, then."

"All right."

He took one step forward and fired the cobble overhand. As the stone left his hand he shouted, "Hey, asshole!" The man with the stick turned to look, just in time to catch about half a kilo of stone full in the mouth. The impact lifted him off his feet and dumped him to the ground like he'd been hit with a bat.

Every student of Battle Magick in the Aud gasped like an affronted Leisurewoman.

"All right, I've intervened," Hari said to the air, sounding bored. "Now what?"

Nobody becomes an Actor just by wanting it. If they're rich, they can buy their way in to one of the Studio-run training facilities. If they're high-caste, they rely on family influence. If they're a Labor thug, well, they better have some powerful fucking friends, and not necessarily from the legitimate side of business.

Being accepted for training is no guarantee of success, either. Students in the School of Battle Magick must master mental discipline; students in Combat School are hulking behemoths who can bench press three times their IQs in kilograms. Both groups, though, undergo intensive instruction in the languages and customs of Overworld's various societies, and only the best make it to Overworld.


Caine
When Spearboy gets about ten feet away, his chest expands and his neck bulges and he unleashes a godawful howl that makes every single hair on my body stand on end. He shakes the spear toward my belly and starts pumping his hips and grunting low in his throat, and I get it.

He's telling me that he's gonna open my guts and fuck me in the wound.

Huh. How about that? I feel better now.

Because if he really thought he could do it, he'd be wet-humping my belly already instead of poncing around like a demented mime.

I feel more than better. I feel incredible. Every problem I have ever had has just . . . evaporated. My career. Torture. Death. Dad. All of it.

Everything. Anything. Don't have one single problem in the world except living through the next twenty seconds. And that's not a problem. It's nothing at all.

Live, die, who gives a shit? So I've never fought an ogrillo. So what?

No ogrillo has ever fought me.

I fake a lunge and he flinches, and I laugh out loud.

"Let's go, Fido." I beckon with both empty hands. "Strike up the fucking band."

Caine - known on Earth as Hari Michaelson - is the protagonist of all three books, rising from a Labor-caste petty criminal to a highly successful Actor to something like the left hand of God. He's lousy at magic, he's of average height and build, he's not freakishly fast or unusually intelligent or blessed with any supernatural abilities.

He is, however, a mean bastard. He will fuck you up. He has some luck, he has some skill, but most of all, he has a raw determination to win, no matter what the odds. He's not immortal, he's not invincible, but he is relentless in his adherence to his only creed:

My will, or I won't.

Caine is far more than a simple-minded thug, though: he's a subversive intellectual whose father literally wrote the book on primal culture, and from a young age, he was exposed to a wide range of banned material - Locke, Lincoln, Shaw, Paine - that had a significant impact on the development of his moral character, such as it is.


The Books

At the moment, the Acts of Caine consist of three novels. A fourth, His Father's Fist, is on the way; additional works are purely theoretical at this point, but there's some talk of another trilogy.

Heroes Die
With my hand on the doorjamb, some buried-alive instinct thumps within my chest: this is going to hurt.

I take a deep breath and step inside.

The first novel in the series is a love story that also just happens to be a brutally violent discourse on the nature of violent entertainment. Caine, a popular Actor, matches wits with the living god Ma'elKoth and with his own employers at the Studio while struggling to find and save his wife, fellow Actor Pallas Ril, a member of a resistance group opposing Ma'elKoth's rule. It's set primarily in Ankhana, capital of the largest human empire on Overworld, with some brief returns to Earth.


Blade of Tyshalle
A tale is told of twin boys born to different mothers.

One is dark by nature, the other light. One is rich, the other poor. One is harsh, the other gentle. One is forever youthful, the other old before his time.

One is mortal.

They share no bond of blood or sympathy, but they are twins nonetheless.

They each live without ever knowing that they are brothers.

They each die fighting the blind god.

After his dubious victory in Heroes Die, Caine has been recalled to Earth to reap his rewards: he is now Administrator Michaelson, in charge of the very Studio he worked for as an Actor. Success, however, came at a cost: his injuries are severe, his relationship with his wife is strained, his financial status is tenuous, and the closest thing he has to a friend is his former enemy, now called Tan'elKoth, dragged to Earth and displayed by the Studio as a tourist attraction. But Michaelson's hard-won reprieve is soon shattered. Tan'elKoth wants his godhood back, and will agree to even the most horrific bargain to get it; Earth's Board of Governors wants greater access to Overworld's resources, no matter what the cost in lives; and Michaelson himself needs to decide which of his two personas is truly him, and which is an act.


Caine Black Knife
The dirt-colored cloud spreads wide, hugging the horizon, draining into hollows of the distant hills. "That's them," I say to no one in particular.

The bloody sun behind my left shoulder stains cloud and hills together, and the shadow of the escarpment overhead spreads like oil across the badlands.

The third book in the series alternates between two timelines. In the past, a reckless, vicious, narcissistic, impossibly cocksure young Caine fights to survive the Adventure that will make him famous, battling the Black Knife ogrilloi clan in the desolate Boedecken Waste. In the present, a battered, middle-aged, slightly less bloodthirsty Caine revisits the Boedecken to help his adopted brother, and finds it transformed into a rigidly ordered farmland under the protection of the militant Knights of Khryll, who arrest him as soon as he mentions his brother's name - of course, it doesn't help that his brother is one of the few surviving Black Knives, and nobody wants to see them back in town.


The Author
There is no moral ambiguity in my work.

Did everybody hear that? Let me say it again, louder: THERE IS NO MORAL AMBIGUITY IN MY WORK.

It only looks ambiguous if you insist on framing a story’s conflict in terms of Good vs. Evil. It’s not that simple. Real life does not operate in those terms. Neither does my fiction.

People who try to tell you that life is about the struggle between Good and Evil are either 1) fooling themselves, 2) lying to you, or 3) both. As Caine himself put it, “When somebody starts talking about good and evil, better keep one hand on your wallet.”

The black-and-white approach of most fantasy is bullshit. It’s laziness. By positing a Force of Supernatural Evil, the writer is relieved of the necessity of motivating his antagonists. “The Devil made me do it!” Or his protagonists, for that matter. “Of course they must be destroyed! They’re EEEEEvil!”

Yeesh. I don’t think I’m the only one who’s sick to death of that crap.

Matthew Stover is a fantasy nerd with a deep interest in classical literature and philosophy who studies Jeet Kune Do and writes the books that he would want to read. This pretty much makes him incredibly awesome, and his books are awesome too. He dedicated Blade of Tyshalle to 11 deceased authors who influenced or inspired him, including Aleister Crowley, Friedrich Nietzsche, Robert A. Heinlein, and Fritz Lieber - quite an eclectic group to draw on.

While the Acts of Caine are Stover's most mature works, he's written a few other things as well. Of the few people who know his name, most do so because of the Star Wars novels he's written - his novelization of Revenge of the Sith got him on the New York Times bestseller list. He also has two earlier historical fantasy novels to his credit, Iron Dawn and Jericho Moon, both of which are entertaining though flawed.

Most recently, there's been some hubbub around the internet about a new Overworld comic, written by Stover, pencilled by TJ Halvorsen. The Kickstart proposal for the project has already reached its initial goal, some some variety of website is up and running, but the project organizers say that any additional funds submitted through Kickstart will be used to finance additional issues of the comic.


Some Links

In the Sorrows - a short story featuring a young Hari Michaelson, long before he became Caine.

Gabe Chouinard interviews Matt Stover - a long interview about good and evil, the state of the fantasy genre, and why free will is a bullshit concept.

Matt Stover's blog - fairly self-explanatory.


Anything Else?

So, who else thinks Caine is a pretty cool guy?

I'm here to tell you about voting. Imagine you're locked in a huge underground nightclub filled with sinners, whores, freaks and unnameable things that rape pit bulls for fun. And you ain't allowed out until you all vote on what you're going to do tonight [. . .] So you vote for television, and everyone else, as far as your eye can see, votes to fuck you with switchblades. That's voting. You're welcome.
Kate of Lokys on
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Posts

  • RchanenRchanen Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    Damn.

    Thought this was going to be about Ciaphas Cain.

    Still, does look interesting.

    shryke wrote: »
    The Democrats aren't crazy but they are still, you know, running the US and it's foreign policy. Which is in the "you don't have a global hegemony without bombing a few eggs" wheelhouse.
  • ElitistbElitistb Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    I think I'll skip the grimdark crapsack world fantasy books. I've got politics if I want to get depressed.

    steam_sig.png
  • tbloxhamtbloxham Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    I'm confused, are these short stories or real full length books? And, as ever how swiftly is the earth setting cast aside. I'm hoping nearly immediately? I don't see how you can say 'There's no evil in my books' when you set up a cruel and brutal facist dictatorship which has destroyed the earth and enslaved everyone.

    Your puny weapons are useless against me
  • Bloods EndBloods End Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    This books are awesome.

    I love the speech he shouts to the orgarillos in Caine Black Knife.

    "You see that, you fuckers? Did anybody NOT see what just happened here? Does anybody need it EXPLAINED? This is MINE.
    Go wherever the fuck you want, but you can't come HERE. For you, this place is HELL. You HEAR me?
    You UNDERSTAND? For you, here is PAIN. Here is DEATH. He died EASY. You will die HARD.
    You will die SCREAMING. Your bitches will HOWL. Your pups will STARVE.
    I will FEED YOU YOUR FUTURE."

    Caine at that point is such an over testosteroned 90's comic hero that it is impossible not to love him. His current personality actually seems subdued in comparison.

    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
  • Caveman PawsCaveman Paws Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    Bloods End wrote: »
    This books are awesome.

    I love the speech he shouts to the orgarillos in Caine Black Knife.

    "You see that, you fuckers? Did anybody NOT see what just happened here? Does anybody need it EXPLAINED? This is MINE.
    Go wherever the fuck you want, but you can't come HERE. For you, this place is HELL. You HEAR me?
    You UNDERSTAND? For you, here is PAIN. Here is DEATH. He died EASY. You will die HARD.
    You will die SCREAMING. Your bitches will HOWL. Your pups will STARVE.
    I will FEED YOU YOUR FUTURE."

    Caine at that point is such an over testosteroned 90's comic hero that it is impossible not to love him. His current personality actually seems subdued in comparison.

    I've never read these books, but based off the op (which is great btw) I immediatley thought "So this guy who sounds like a 90's comic book anti hero."

    So what are some other books you'd like to recommend?

  • Kate of LokysKate of Lokys Registered User
    edited February 2011
    I added a section to the OP providing information about the actual books in the series.
    tbloxham wrote: »
    I don't see how you can say 'There's no evil in my books' when you set up a cruel and brutal facist dictatorship which has destroyed the earth and enslaved everyone.
    There's no evil in the Acts of Caine because the entire concept of evil is an artificially binary construction used as an end to justify any means.

    Is the Earth in Caine's world a scorched ruin of a place, permanently scarred by the ravages of war and pollution? Yeah, it sure as shit is. But it wasn't some nebulous force of evil that destroyed it, it wasn't Big Bad Big Brother being dictatorial, it was us, just stupid greedy grasping humans trying to grab what we could before it was gone, and if that shocks you, take a look around. Are people in Caine's world enslaved? In all but name, some of them are, yes. But aren't most of us? Do you really think that being able to cast one vote out of 300 million every four years makes you any less of a wage slave? And what's so evil about economic slavery, anyway? Inequality runs from nations all the way down to single-celled organisms: somebody's always going to have more than you, and morality has nothing to do with it.

    I'm here to tell you about voting. Imagine you're locked in a huge underground nightclub filled with sinners, whores, freaks and unnameable things that rape pit bulls for fun. And you ain't allowed out until you all vote on what you're going to do tonight [. . .] So you vote for television, and everyone else, as far as your eye can see, votes to fuck you with switchblades. That's voting. You're welcome.
  • tbloxhamtbloxham Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    Well, I bought the first one on my Kindle, lets see how it turns out.

    Your puny weapons are useless against me
  • Unco-ordinatedUnco-ordinated Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    Rchanen wrote: »
    Damn.

    Thought this was going to be about Ciaphas Cain.

    Still, does look interesting.

    I thought it was going to be about Michael Caine and his awesome career. I'm pretty disappointed right now.

    Anyway, sounds kinda interesting. I don't have the time to read anything at the moment but I'll try remember it for when I do.

    Steam ID - LiquidSolid170 | PSN ID - LiquidSolid
  • OrganichuOrganichu Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    i really enjoyed the first book and then...
    i'm not sure if this is the second book or the third, but when there's a fire in the big good looking guy's apartment and caine saves him and his wife is really despondent... my memory's hazy because it's been a while. i stopped there.

    so does it definitely go back to bad assery

    if so maybe i'll resume

  • ronyaronya Arrrrrrf. the ivory tower's basementRegistered User regular
    edited February 2011
    I added a section to the OP providing information about the actual books in the series.
    tbloxham wrote: »
    I don't see how you can say 'There's no evil in my books' when you set up a cruel and brutal facist dictatorship which has destroyed the earth and enslaved everyone.
    There's no evil in the Acts of Caine because the entire concept of evil is an artificially binary construction used as an end to justify any means.

    Is the Earth in Caine's world a scorched ruin of a place, permanently scarred by the ravages of war and pollution? Yeah, it sure as shit is. But it wasn't some nebulous force of evil that destroyed it, it wasn't Big Bad Big Brother being dictatorial, it was us, just stupid greedy grasping humans trying to grab what we could before it was gone, and if that shocks you, take a look around. Are people in Caine's world enslaved? In all but name, some of them are, yes. But aren't most of us? Do you really think that being able to cast one vote out of 300 million every four years makes you any less of a wage slave? And what's so evil about economic slavery, anyway? Inequality runs from nations all the way down to single-celled organisms: somebody's always going to have more than you, and morality has nothing to do with it.

    uhhh. If you're gonna argue that a global brutal fascist dictatorship is not more evil than what the world has today, I think your evil-o-meter is broken.

    Acts of Caine sounds too grimdark for my tastes, although that may be due to how you're describing it.

  • HamHamJHamHamJ Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    So it's just more relativist bullshit about evil dicks being evil? Pass.

    While racing light mechs, your Urbanmech comes in second place, but only because it ran out of ammo.
  • TomantaTomanta Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    In addition to the Acts of Caine series, Stover has some pretty good Star Wars fiction. Including salvaging Episode III in his novelization and Shatterpoint which shows why Mace Windu is a badass (with bonus points for essentially being a Clone Wars Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now).

    Might as well also mention that Blade of Tyshalle is out of print for a bullshit reason, but is available in eBook form.

  • Tiger BurningTiger Burning (poster is a bear)Registered User, SolidSaints Tube regular
    edited February 2011
    I'm a little more than half-way through the first book. The premise is cool. The writing is adequate. The characterization is weak. The villains are cartoonishly villainous. The hero is a stone killer with a heart of gold, who never seems to kill anybody and who's only discernible flaws are that he tries too hard and cares too much. But he dresses all in black, and even his aura is black, so we know he's a badass. I'm hoping that the story reveals some greater nuance or complexity before the end, otherwise I can't see myself spending more time or money on the series. It does seem like they would make good comic books, though.

    Ain't no particular sign I'm more compatible with
  • RchanenRchanen Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    I'm a little more than half-way through the first book. The premise is cool. The writing is adequate. The characterization is weak. The villains are cartoonishly villainous. The hero is a stone killer with a heart of gold, who never seems to kill anybody and who's only discernible flaws are that he tries too hard and cares too much. But he dresses all in black, and even his aura is black, so we know he's a badass. I'm hoping that the story reveals some greater nuance or complexity before the end, otherwise I can't see myself spending more time or money on the series. It does seem like they would make good comic books, though.

    No actually that's just about as good as Stover gets.

    He's not that damn good. Not horrible. Troy Denning is much, much worse. But there are better than Stover.

    shryke wrote: »
    The Democrats aren't crazy but they are still, you know, running the US and it's foreign policy. Which is in the "you don't have a global hegemony without bombing a few eggs" wheelhouse.
  • valiancevaliance Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    fair warning I'm a big fan of the acts of caine
    I'm a little more than half-way through the first book. The premise is cool. The writing is adequate. The characterization is weak. The villains are cartoonishly villainous. The hero is a stone killer with a heart of gold, who never seems to kill anybody and who's only discernible flaws are that he tries too hard and cares too much. But he dresses all in black, and even his aura is black, so we know he's a badass. I'm hoping that the story reveals some greater nuance or complexity before the end, otherwise I can't see myself spending more time or money on the series. It does seem like they would make good comic books, though.

    I can see not liking the characterization of the peripheral characters--though I think everyone from Majesty on up gets a pretty fair amount of depth. What did you find so weak? Or what was missing?

    Cartoonishly villanious? From another view Kollberg is just an ambitious administrator who ends up as the fall guy when his corporate masters get caught in a scandal. Berne, well Berne is irredeemable. He's a complete monster. But if you think Ma'elKoth is cartoonishly villainous you missed the part where he's an awesome emperor and God to his people. He's like a fantasy fuckin Darkseid, only--less evil.

    As for Caine not killing people? Well, he IS trying to reform after all. He's trying to be more than what his wife accused him of being; more than his bosses want him to be. More than what he was. I see the lack of killing people as progress.

    Discernable flaws? He's a violent, cynical, murderer who doesn't believe in heroism. An actor trapped so far into his character that he tries to solve every problem with his fists. He's so in love with his estranged ex-wife that he'd trade thousands of lives for just her one. What more flaws do you want?

    I don't really get the complaints about lack of nuance. What's so black and white about it?


    the series really isn't as grimdark as it's being made out to be. It's more of an "earn your happy ending" than anything. See: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheActsOfCaine but beware spoilers.
    Organichu wrote: »
    i really enjoyed the first book and then...
    i'm not sure if this is the second book or the third, but when there's a fire in the big good looking guy's apartment and caine saves him and his wife is really despondent... my memory's hazy because it's been a while. i stopped there.

    so does it definitely go back to bad assery

    if so maybe i'll resume

    so much badassery after that. Go read!
    tbloxham wrote: »
    I'm confused, are these short stories or real full length books? And, as ever how swiftly is the earth setting cast aside. I'm hoping nearly immediately? I don't see how you can say 'There's no evil in my books' when you set up a cruel and brutal facist dictatorship which has destroyed the earth and enslaved everyone.

    Well that's a bit of an exaggeration. There IS no government as we understand it on this Earth. It's more like Shadowrun, everything is controlled by the Megacorps.

    We have no evidence to suggest that the Earth's destruction is anything other than an extension of what we're already doing. It does't take eeeevul to cause environmental destruction, we're already doing it.

    Also, there might be slavery (I think the very lowest caste are criminals with their higher neural functions shorted out by a cyborg yoke). But even that is comparable to working on a chain gang or stamping license plates. All the other castes work for money and struggle to get ahead, just like we do today....
    ronya wrote: »
    I added a section to the OP providing information about the actual books in the series.
    tbloxham wrote: »
    I don't see how you can say 'There's no evil in my books' when you set up a cruel and brutal facist dictatorship which has destroyed the earth and enslaved everyone.
    There's no evil in the Acts of Caine because the entire concept of evil is an artificially binary construction used as an end to justify any means.

    Is the Earth in Caine's world a scorched ruin of a place, permanently scarred by the ravages of war and pollution? Yeah, it sure as shit is. But it wasn't some nebulous force of evil that destroyed it, it wasn't Big Bad Big Brother being dictatorial, it was us, just stupid greedy grasping humans trying to grab what we could before it was gone, and if that shocks you, take a look around. Are people in Caine's world enslaved? In all but name, some of them are, yes. But aren't most of us? Do you really think that being able to cast one vote out of 300 million every four years makes you any less of a wage slave? And what's so evil about economic slavery, anyway? Inequality runs from nations all the way down to single-celled organisms: somebody's always going to have more than you, and morality has nothing to do with it.

    uhhh. If you're gonna argue that a global brutal fascist dictatorship is not more evil than what the world has today, I think your evil-o-meter is broken.

    Acts of Caine sounds too grimdark for my tastes, although that may be due to how you're describing it.

    Authorially, Stover definitely takes a stance against the "governments" of his dystopia. When he says there's no evil in his works(maybe I'm stretching but) I think he's saying there's no unmotivated evil. The "evil" governments of Earth have very clear, understandable, even sympathetic reasons for doing what they do. There's no bad guy out there doing bad stuff because his nature is inherently evil (ok except Berne :P)


    CAREFUL OF SPOILERS but another interview/Q&A: http://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/2009/09/18/september-19-2009-author-matthew-woodring-stover-answers-your-questions/
    I wanted Heroes Die to have all the traditional elements of popcorn fantasy – a Magic Sword, Dark Mystic Peril, a Damsel in Distress, a Legendary Swordsman, a Crafty Courtier, a Canny Street-Wise Sidekick, a World-Beater Dark Lord type for the antagonist . . . you know the drill. If I could have found a way to include a fluffy unicorn and a sarcastic dragon, please believe I would have.

    Of course, my fluffy unicorn would have turned out to be a drug addict who robs drunks at horn-point, and my sarcastic dragon would have gotten his head blown off in the first action sequence . . . but it’s the thought that counts.

  • Tiger BurningTiger Burning (poster is a bear)Registered User, SolidSaints Tube regular
    edited February 2011
    valiance wrote: »
    He's a violent, cynical, murderer who doesn't believe in heroism.

    Well, no. He says that's what he is, and we're told that that's what he is, or was, or whatever. But what he is is a hackneyed fantasy trope of a supremely violent and skilled killer who never actually kills anybody because he is too honorable and good.

    Just finished it a few minutes ago. It's a pretty bad book. An interesting premise that turns into rote, PG-13 (except for a few torture porn scenes) pulp. I also made the mistake of reading a little of the 'Q&A' section at the end, in which the author holds forth on martial arts, physics, metaphysics, politics and philosophy with all the earnestness and expertise of an entirely un-self-critical 16 year old.

    Would not recommend.

    Ain't no particular sign I'm more compatible with
  • ChillyWillyChillyWilly Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    I think I'm going to check the first book out, at least. I'll try anything once.

    PAFC Top 10 Finisher in Seasons 1 and 3. 2nd in Seasons 4 and 5. Final 4 in Season 6.
  • valiancevaliance Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    valiance wrote: »
    He's a violent, cynical, murderer who doesn't believe in heroism.

    Well, no. He says that's what he is, and we're told that that's what he is, or was, or whatever. But what he is is a hackneyed fantasy trope of a supremely violent and skilled killer who never actually kills anybody because he is too honorable and good.

    Well..
    He kills at least three people: Berne, Lamorak and Creele; and he injures many more. Sure those were all his enemies, but what, you want him to kill his friends too? He tries to kill Ma'elKoth and fails, and he also fails to kill Tup with the thrown knife. Plus he instigates the collapse of an empire just to save his wife.

    I guess I'm not aware of that trope, or disagree that Caine fits there. What are the ur-examples of this trope? Who does this non-murdering violent killer schtick well?

    Also I see the lack of murdering people as progress in the character's morality. It's not as if his previous murders happen offscreen either, the book starts with one of them!
    Just finished it a few minutes ago. It's a pretty bad book. An interesting premise that turns into rote, PG-13 (except for a few torture porn scenes) pulp. I also made the mistake of reading a little of the 'Q&A' section at the end, in which the author holds forth on martial arts, physics, metaphysics, politics and philosophy with all the earnestness and expertise of an entirely un-self-critical 16 year old.

    Would not recommend.

    Sorry you didn't like it. I like pulp, though I don't think this qualifies as bad pulp. And I thought the Q&A was fun. Whether you agree with him or not Stover seems like a pretty well read, smart guy.

    I guess if you guys want a (free) taste you can read: "In The Sorrows" from the OP: http://www.desertwords.com/fiction/inthesorrows.html

  • HachfaceHachface Not the Minister Farrakhan you're thinking of Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    The fantasy genre has long passed the point where authors get points just for having morally ambiguous characters.

  • valiancevaliance Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    Hachface wrote: »
    The fantasy genre has long passed the point where authors get points just for having morally ambiguous characters.

    1. disagree with the idea that the characters are "morally ambiguous". though they are more interesting than grr evil and yay good!
    2. the first book in the series is like 12 years old, so maybe it seems dated now, but it was 12 years less so (if at all) when it dropped.

    and now, an appeal to authority. err.. a review of Heroes Die and a review of Blade of Tyshalle by Scott Lynch (The Lies of Locke Lamorra, Red Seas Under Red Skies):

    for Heroes Die:
    http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/9/9825.phtml
    REVIEW OF Heroes Die

    In the interests of full disclosure, after I read this book the author became (and remains) a very friendly acquaintance of mine. However, his work kicked my ass long before I knew him from Adam, and I don't pass out hand-jobs to my friends in any case-- if anything, I read their work more critically than that of complete strangers.

    Also, there is a typo in the second paragraph that is entirely my fault: "This world co-exists somewhat uneasily with a crack in the walls of dimensional reality;" is how the first part of the sentence should go. I would cut off a finger in apology if I knew who to send it to.

    Cheers and best,

    SL
    "Hey, I'm not the only guy that kills people."

    "Nobody said you're the only one, Hari. That's not the point."

    "I'll tell you what the point is. The point is, that's how I became a star. The point is, that's how I pay for this house, and the cars, and get us a table at the Por L'Oeil. That's how I pay for everything!"

    "It's not you who pays for it, Hari. It's Toa-Phelathon. His wife. His daughters. Thousands of wives, husbands, parents, children. They're the ones who pay for it."
    Two centuries from now, our world is united under the heel of an unforgiving caste-based social tyranny, a form of capitalism run amuck without even the pretense of egalitarianism to hold it in check. At the bottom of the heap are the desperate Temps and the Laborers; above them are the assorted Professionals and the calculating Administrators; at the topmost slivers of the social pyramid are the active Businessmen and the ultra-rare, ultra-powerful Leisurefolk, some of whom (the lines of Saud and Windsor, for example) have managed to cling to their ancestral wealth long enough for it to transmute from informal social dominance to concrete political authority.

    This world co-exists somewhat uneasily with an unprecedented ; advanced technology has opened the door to parallel worlds, and Earth has a near-mirror in the form of Overworld. Overworld is Earth minus a thousand years of industrial progress and overpopulation, a world where "magic" in an infinite number of permutations is simply a part of local physical laws, a world right out of any "heroic fantasy" of the late twentieth century. Vast tracts of harsh and beautiful wilderness, clean air and untainted rivers, fantastic beasts and nonhuman sentients, filthy medieval-level cities teeming with brutality, intrigue, and wonders... all of these things are there for the taking on Overworld. Naturally, the upper-caste rulers of Earth only have one use for the place.

    Bloody entertainment.

    Just one class of person is (openly) allowed to transfer to Overworld and spend any time among its people-- Actors. Each Actor is a member of the Professional caste, given years of expensive and elaborate training at the Conservatories of the worldwide Studio. Each Actor learns the languages and mannerisms of Overworld like a native, and learns the deadly skills of archaic combat or esoteric magic (although magic does not function on earth, its "laws of physics" are consistent and can be simulated for training purposes by humans with the proper mental aptitude). After a long period of free-roaming acclimation on Overworld, each Actor is recalled to Earth and implanted with devices that will capture his or her full range of sensory impressions for live broadcast back to Earth.

    Actors entertain by Adventuring. The essential purpose of each Adventure is to disrupt Overworld society for the amusement of the billions on Earth, who live these Adventures through the five senses of the Actors themselves. The masses receive these full-immersion fantasies in recorded form, often edited for brevity and the suppression of "socially damaging" content. The Leisure and Business castes spend fortunes on live-immersion Firsthand booths, living Adventures as they happen, high on the very real possibility that they may be privileged to experience the death of an Actor in realtime. Running, hiding, skulking, questing, spell-weaving, and slaying by proxy; these are the pleasures the Studio has to offer. A chance to experience these exotic Adventures through the fit young bodies and theatrically polished personalities of the Actors...

    Hundreds of Actors are on Overworld at any given time, some of them struggling just to make a profit for the Studio, others claiming devoted legions of followers back on Earth. They are inserted at every level in Overworld society, ordered out on Adventures carefully planned by Studio forecasters to yield maximum ratings. Should the Studio send Actors to aid one side in a civil war, or should it send them to assassinate the other side's leaders? Which option has the greatest potential for a mega-selling Adventure, full of danger, intrigue, romance, and violence? Which option will cause the biggest cascade effect throughout Overworld's society, birth more unrest, and give other Actors a chance to carve Adventures out of the ruins?

    Adventure consumption has banished every other form of mass entertainment to the ash-heap of history. What could possibly compete with an entire toy world, a world any common Laborer can come home to from a shift at his meaningless life's work, a world where he will always be handsome, young, and free, and a god with a blade or a spell?

    What does it mean to be one of those imaginary gods, deliberately ruining lives on a world where Gods are very real?

    San Francisco was now the jewelled diadem of the whole Studio system, the flagship operation, the prestige market; San Francisco took in fifty million marks a year from the mere waiting lists it maintained for hopeful subscribers to its top ten stars.

    And when one speaks of the top ten stars of San Francisco, when one speaks of the top ten stars of all time, one inevitably comes around to Caine.

    Say what you will about Burchardt, about Story and Zhian and Mkembe, bring up any name you want; there was only one Caine. Never been anyone like him, probably never will be again; often imitated, never duplicated. There were any number of conflicting theories about Caine's popularity, giving the credit variously to his eloquence, to his curious combination of ruhtlessness and passion, to his peculiar quirks of honor; Kollberg knew all these to be empty rationalization.

    They were bullshit.

    There were two reasons Caine continued to dominate both the firsthand and secondhand markets. The first was his snarling bare-knuckle brawling.

    Throwing spells is one thing-- feeling the power of magick surging through your body. Hacking into an enemy with a steel blade is something else-- something more intimate, more brutal. But even that can't compare with the erotic power of the snap of bone beneath your bare hands, the smack of flesh on flesh and the sudden, delicious surge that takes you when your enemy gives that faint sigh--that gasp of the consciousness of defeat-- when his face goes slack and he sees his death in your eyes. It's the fighting itself that Caine's fans live for, and Caine throws himself into combat with the abandon of a cliff diver: he springs out into space, to live or die, just for the rush.

    The second reason was Kollberg himself.

    Kollberg had made Caine, had managed his career with the sort of personal attention that most men reserve for their sons. Anyplace on Overworld where a situation was reported that would make a thrilling backdrop for a Caine story, Caine went. Kollberg had even sent him to places where other Actors were at work-- even when it meant dropping him into their story lines and having him take over. Kollberg had been criticized for this favoritism, and he'd been criticized for pandering to the public, for damaging the stories of the other Actors and destroying their artistic validity.

    He had answered every charge with a gesture, a chubby finger pointed straight at the Studio's bottom line. Even the lesser Actors gave up grumbling; after all, the chance that Caine could show up unexpectedly in their Adventures boosted the subscription rates for every single Actor in San Francisco.
    On Overworld, there is Caine-- freebooter, adventurer, assassin without peer. The powerful whisper his name to themselves to send shivers of cold fear down their spines. Moving and striking at will, disappearing just as mysteriously, he has been called the Blade of Tyshalle-- Tyshalle, God of Death. It was Caine's assassination of Prince-Regent Toa-Phelathon of Ankhana that triggered the longest, bloodiest civil war Overworld has ever seen and the highest Adventure ratings the Studio has ever known.

    On Earth, there is only Hari Michaelson, the Actor who plays Caine when he's on Overworld and mimics a vague shadow of that passion at home. Hari, pushing forty and letting socially compromising elements slip into his Adventures, suffering through his separation from his wife Shanna Leighton (another Actor, known on Overworld as the sorceress Pallas Ril), is about to step into the biggest and most obvious trap of his entire life.

    On Overworld, Emperor Ma'elKoth, a sorcerer of unprecedented power and ambition, has taken the throne that Caine/Hari emptied when he slew Toa-Phelathon. Ma'elKoth's vision of a secure and orderly future for Overworld humanity is useless for the Studio's ratings needs. Ma'elKoth's recent discovery of a mysterious sect of outside agents he knows only as Aktiri is a direct threat to the future of Adventuring itself. The living toys on Overworld must never be allowed to learn the true nature of the Actors moving among them.

    On Earth, the Studio is growing aggravated with Hari Michaelson's potential for sedition. Caine is far too popular to allow him to espouse or demonstrate socially compromising material in his Adventures. The worldwide Caste Riots of the decade previous had been triggered by a popular Actor, a charismatic figure whose efforts to unite the poor and downtrodden of Overworld were emulated by revolutionaries on Earth, with society-shaking consequences. The Studio has not forgotten.

    Hari is a problem. Ma'elKoth is a crisis waiting to break. The Studio puts two and two together to arrive at the obvious solution-- the greatest Adventure of all time. Caine must be sent to assassinate Ma'elKoth, the physically invincible and seemingly omniscient ruler of the greatest empire on Overworld, a genuine god-figure who has actually earned the trust and veneration of his people.

    If Caine should happen to die in the course of this adventure, the Studio really doesn't lose anything. Hari will cease to be a problem, and the ratings will be the best of all time. Death of Caine or Death of Ma'elKoth, the Studio cannot lose. To further complicate matters, Hari learns that Shanna is stuck on Overworld due to the malfunction of an experimental new transfer technology, and that she is firmly trapped in Ankhana with agents of Ma'elKoth hot on her heels. The Studio orders Hari to contrive matters to present his assassination of Ma'elKoth as a purely personal vendetta, with no hint that the Studio has directly ordered the Emperor's death. The Studio is monitoring Hari's live feed, and at the slightest slip, the tiniest hint of sedition or truth from his words or actions, they will pull him back to Earth and leave Shanna without hope of rescue. Caught between an unbeatable Overworld foe and an all-powerful Studio that can see everything he does and hear everything he says, Hari will need all the legendary ruthlessness of Caine to have a chance in hell of saving the woman he still loves.

    Arturo Kollberg squirmed wetly in his simichair. At last, some action, he thought as he/Caine skidded down the two flights of stairs and sprinted past the startled guards in the corridor. He/Caine had gotten enough details from that dwarf whore to know which turns to make, and he was at the service door before anyone could possibly know he was coming.

    Kollberg's heart pounded with anticipation. Only four hours into the Adventure, and already Caine was about to confront Berne. It might make up for some of the plodding dullness of this first day so far; Studio-sponsored focus groups had determined that an average of 1.6 lethal combats per day was optimum for a Caine Adventure, and Caine had barely thrown a punch, yet. Dropping the houseboy, knifing the pixie, big deal. Beating up a whore had a certain old-fashioned charm, but it hardly qualified as actual combat. Confronting Berne, on the other hand...

    He licked his already moist lips and smiled into the face shield.

    Live or die, this was going to be great.

    That's the premise of Matthew Woodring Stover's Heroes Die, a bold, vigorous, and multi-layered hybrid of fantasy and science fiction. It is a relentlessly violent book, as chock-full of brutal mayhem as any action-adventure tale you're likely to find. Yet it's also a deep and moving reflection on the consequences of violence and the moral fallout of human decisions. As an added bonus, it's a novel of particular interest to roleplayers. Stover, a former roleplaying gamer and stage actor himself, infuses the story with a great deal of reflection on how actors are changed by the roles they play as well as parallels (both subtle and obvious, narratively important and totally trivial) between the Earth/Overworld relationship and the basis of the hobby we share here at RPG.net.

    Although it's charged from end to end with philosophy, pathos, and politics, one of the most appealing aspects of this novel is that its deeper subtexts are entirely "opt-in;" it's neither a polemic nor a cranky book-length lecture on the Way Things Oughtta Be. Sharp-eyed readers will spot a number of friendly homages to the works of Robert Heinlein, but a story-dominating Important Cultural Lesson isn't one of them. If you're looking for a fast-moving fantasy thriller thick with intrigue, plot twists, peril, and snapped necks, well, it's an all-you-can-read buffet. If you're looking for something deeper, something more emotionally grounded and thought-provoking, those elements are there as well. Stover doesn't preach; he invites you to consider his work as you see fit. Taken as a whole, gut-wrenching violence and emotional insight alike, it's a fictional tapestry with very few ready comparisons in my experience.

    Hari Michaelson/Caine is a complicated protagonist. "Anti-hero" is such a played-out term, loaded with so many false and misunderstood meanings at this point that I won't dignify it by applying it to him. He's a killer, a cold-blooded one, a willing participant in the Studio's ongoing for-profit interference in the natural development of Overworld. He's utterly steeped in blood, a sly cynic, reminiscent of Edward (The Comedian) Blake from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen, minus the gleeful nihilism and misogyny. Hari might have once been a vessel for a burning idealism, perhaps a social crusader like his (incarcerated) father, but the relentless cruelty of life in the Studio's world has reshaped that idealism into what can only be described as a smoldering, feral abandon. Hari/Caine isn't the strongest fighter around, nor the toughest, nor even the most skilled by a long shot. What he is, is the most relentless-- the most insatiable, the most hungry, the most do-or-die-and-screw-the-consequences guy you'd ever wish not to meet in a dark alley. When he fights, he fights as though the next second of life is the last one he'll ever be given. This is the primary reason why objectively superior opponents are always hitting the ground in pieces around him with surprised expressions on their faces.

    Hari/Caine isn't a protagonist for everyone's taste-- if you can't get past the fact that he kills a great many people with very little demonstrative remorse, if you somehow think that he should simply know better or that the "good guys" don't behave like this, well, all I can say is that the technical skill and emotional energy that have gone into Heroes Die might still be a point of attraction for you... but perhaps think twice before riding this bloody roller coaster. Hari/Caine isn't a "good guy" or a "bad guy;" he doesn't fit neatly into any pat moral duality, and neither do most of the people around him. Hari/Caine is, for all of his cold-blooded lethality, a deeply honorable, self-honest, and anti-hypocritical individual. By wearing the feral mask of Caine for so long, Hari has become acutely aware of the masks that everyone around him wears to hide their true nature (and that of their world) from themselves. His arch-antagonist, the "villainous" Ma'elKoth, is much the same-- relentlessly true to his own vision, genuinely dedicated to the welfare of his subjects and the future of the human race, a proponent of order and creative dynamism above all else. Heroes Die refuses to break the difficult decisions we all face in life (and those the characters face within the story) down into Children's Chewable Abstracts.

    The Connor family motto of NO FATE-- "No fate except that which we make for ourselves,"-- from James Cameron's Terminator films is perhaps the clearest distillation of the essence of Heroes Die. This novel is an intricate examination of decision and consequence, action and reaction, both in an immediate sense and in the broader scheme of events. It also contains an unprecedented amount of wall-to-wall ass-kicking, threaded together by a writer at the balance point between youthful exuberance and mature reflection. I've never read anything else quite like it... and I unhumbly suggest that it may be one of the most unjustly overlooked novels of the past decade. Give it a try, gentle reader. It's heady stuff.

    and

    for Blade of Tyshalle:
    http://www.amazon.com/Blade-Tyshalle-Matthew-Woodring-Stover/dp/0345421442
    Stover's work has been lampooned as "over-the-top" and "shallow wish-fulfillment violence" by a few self-satisfied snobs who didn't bother to actually read what he was writing. However, *Blade of Tyshalle* contains more deep reflection on the consequences of violence, and on the nature and the extent of personal responsibility for one's actions, than any other novel I've read in the past ten years. I expected to be enthralled (Stover is a past master of narrative mechanics and effective tension-building), but I didn't expect to be quite so moved. *Blade of Tyshalle* is an emotional and intellectual brick to the head, and the heart of it all (as Bob Urell has pointed out elsewhere in this review section) is its skillfully-crafted multi-level duality.

    Caine is simultaneously a selfish, vicious, amoral mass-murderer and the freest, noblest, least dishonest character in the story. Stover never loses sight of either aspect of his gritty fantasy Batman; when it looks like Caine is getting a bit too much authorial glad-handing, Stover shows us what a ... he is. When it looks like he's being too much of a ..., some of the twisted nobility is allowed to creep back in. Caine is a construct that Stover alternately tortures, dissects, and celebrates-- only idiots would make the mistake of assuming that Caine is some sort of wishful authorial projection. Caine is Stover's demonstration of how simplistic dualities-- Good vs. Evil, Right vs. Wrong, Order vs. Chaos-- so easily break down when confronted with the complexity that even a single human being displays.

    Too many fantasies treat blood, sex, violence, and adventures as something distant from the reader, something so unlikely and improbable that they can be enjoyed abstractly. *Blade of Tyshalle* uses brutality and suffering to move the reader closer to the story, to draw a line between the reader's life and the lives of everyone in the novel.

    The true heart of "gritty" fantasy isn't blood and gore, it's the examination of genuine human characters rather than idealized ciphers. That's why *Blade of Tyshalle* hurts so much and excites so deeply.

  • Tiger BurningTiger Burning (poster is a bear)Registered User, SolidSaints Tube regular
    edited February 2011
    I'm not sure that Scott Lynch has read the books, given that he describes Caine as a complex, morally ambiguous character, but also as "fantasy Batman" (the latter is accurate). Meh. Chalk me up as one of the "self-satisfied snobs" who found it to be mostly shallow wish-fulfillment.

    Ain't no particular sign I'm more compatible with
  • twotimesadingotwotimesadingo Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    Fantastic OP.


    I think anyone reading the setting synopsis and dismissing the work out of hand is doing themselves a disservice. Frankly, I'd equate it to reading a book jacket of Moby Dick and saying "Mid-century whaling? No thanks!" and then missing a piece of literature that, despite the setting, has aged remarkably well.

    Personally, loved Heroes Die. I thought it was as good a single work as any one can find that fits within the SFF genre. Also, as valiance points out, it was released over twelve years ago, pre-dating most of the other works that have since begun to subvert the standard, over-worn fantasy themes.


    Tiger... umm... have you read any of the Batman comics? You seem to have equated, above, "complex, morally ambiguous" and Batman with diametrical opposites. I'm not sure that is a well-constructed spectrum. Is Batman not morally ambiguous because he doesn't generally kill his antagonists?

    I'm not sure how you could have read the book and not seen the depth of the character of Hari Michaelson. If you're saying Caine, as the character played by the Actor Hari Michaelson, is somewhat shallow, with reservations, I can get behind that. But to imply that Hari Michaelson, as both the Earth-bound actor struggling to rectify his professional life with his personal relationships, and the Overworld charactor Caine, who is a part played by Hari semi-ironically, though representative of Hari's Labor-bred viciousness, makes me wonder just what character in literture passes the litmus test of not being a "hackneyed fantasy trope."

    PSN: twotimesadingo
  • rational vashrational vash Registered User
    edited February 2011
    Fantastic OP.


    I think anyone reading the setting synopsis and dismissing the work out of hand is doing themselves a disservice. Frankly, I'd equate it to reading a book jacket of Moby Dick and saying "Mid-century whaling? No thanks!" and then missing a piece of literature that, despite the setting, has aged remarkably well.

    Personally, loved Heroes Die. I thought it was as good a single work as any one can find that fits within the SFF genre. Also, as valiance points out, it was released over twelve years ago, pre-dating most of the other works that have since begun to subvert the standard, over-worn fantasy themes.


    Tiger... umm... have you read any of the Batman comics? You seem to have equated, above, "complex, morally ambiguous" and Batman with diametrical opposites. I'm not sure that is a well-constructed spectrum. Is Batman not morally ambiguous because he doesn't generally kill his antagonists?

    I'm not sure how you could have read the book and not seen the depth of the character of Hari Michaelson. If you're saying Caine, as the character played by the Actor Hari Michaelson, is somewhat shallow, with reservations, I can get behind that. But to imply that Hari Michaelson, as both the Earth-bound actor struggling to rectify his professional life with his personal relationships, and the Overworld charactor Caine, who is a part played by Hari semi-ironically, though representative of Hari's Labor-bred viciousness, makes me wonder just what character in literture passes the litmus test of not being a "hackneyed fantasy trope."

    Morally ambiguous means that a character doesn't neatly fit into a good/evil dichotomy. Batman is pretty good. He fights murderous sociopaths and refuses to kill them.

    For comparison, someone like Rorschach or Ozymandias is morally ambiguous.

  • joshua1joshua1 Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    Just bought the first one for my brother.

    Also got him "Canticle for Leibowitz" and "The Forever War"

    Hope it can rank.

  • twotimesadingotwotimesadingo Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    Morally ambiguous means that a character doesn't neatly fit into a good/evil dichotomy. Batman is pretty good. He fights murderous sociopaths and refuses to kill them.

    For comparison, someone like Rorschach or Ozymandias is morally ambiguous.


    I realize. I was more asking for Tiger to explain his position. He seemed to be saying that "complex, morally ambiguous" and Batman were mutually exclusive. I don't think that position is fully warranted. I absolutely couldn't give you an issue number, but Wayne himself struggles at times to adhere to his own code of not killing some of his antagonists. I'd say that introduces a measure of moral ambiguity. That he, in the end, does not choose to kill his opponents does, however, cement him on one side of the spectrum.

    And while introducing the comparisons above, I don't think there's any way one can reasonably call Rorschach morally ambiguous and wholly deny that appellation to Bruce Wayne. Unless your stance is that "one kills and one doesn't" equates to a binary conclusion of morality. I'd say both operate in a large ethical grey area, morals aside.

    PSN: twotimesadingo
  • tbloxhamtbloxham Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    I'm enjoying the first book, I think from reading it that there is no question as to the fact that the Earth society is Evil. No moral gray area there, the government and people at the top of that chain are simply evil. Overworld and Earth have an interesting back and forth, and I like the idea that Earth is using Overworld as entertainment but everything Earth does plays a major role in Overworld.

    There's not much here in the way of deep philosophical thought, but there's more complexity than in say, a Warhammer 40K novel. Still, Caine is interesting and the rulers of Earth are a good evil villain (seriously, they are without question a cackling moustache twirling bunch of black cloaked bastards)

    Your puny weapons are useless against me
  • takyristakyris Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    Read a bit. I can see it working for people looking for stuff of the Conan persuasion, but that's not really my thing. I was active on a messageboard the author frequented awhile back. The author was a massive grimdark poser. At one point, he declared to me that anyone who didn't take it to the limit by going balls to the wall to grind out the writing that fucking mattered most to them no matter the odds against them blah blah blah grimdark was a giant pussy sellout. When I countered by asking if that meant that his lifelong ambition had been to write Star Wars tie-ins, I was mobbed by his defenders.

    (To be clear, there's nothing wrong with writing Star Wars tie-ins. But don't claim that you're all about the art, man, and fuck the man, because you're doing your indie hardass thing that nobody else can understand when you're writing a book about Samuel L Jackson, Jedi Master.)

    Dox the PI wrote:
    takyris, Greek God of blowing shit up.
  • tbloxhamtbloxham Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    takyris wrote: »
    Read a bit. I can see it working for people looking for stuff of the Conan persuasion, but that's not really my thing. I was active on a messageboard the author frequented awhile back. The author was a massive grimdark poser. At one point, he declared to me that anyone who didn't take it to the limit by going balls to the wall to grind out the writing that fucking mattered most to them no matter the odds against them blah blah blah grimdark was a giant pussy sellout. When I countered by asking if that meant that his lifelong ambition had been to write Star Wars tie-ins, I was mobbed by his defenders.

    (To be clear, there's nothing wrong with writing Star Wars tie-ins. But don't claim that you're all about the art, man, and fuck the man, because you're doing your indie hardass thing that nobody else can understand when you're writing a book about Samuel L Jackson, Jedi Master.)

    There's nothing really wrong with grimdark either, and I don't get the sense that the Overworld is truly super grim since the book focuses on only the worst aspects of it, but Earth itself is definitely Grimdark.

    Your puny weapons are useless against me
  • takyristakyris Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    tbloxham wrote: »
    takyris wrote: »
    Read a bit. I can see it working for people looking for stuff of the Conan persuasion, but that's not really my thing. I was active on a messageboard the author frequented awhile back. The author was a massive grimdark poser. At one point, he declared to me that anyone who didn't take it to the limit by going balls to the wall to grind out the writing that fucking mattered most to them no matter the odds against them blah blah blah grimdark was a giant pussy sellout. When I countered by asking if that meant that his lifelong ambition had been to write Star Wars tie-ins, I was mobbed by his defenders.

    (To be clear, there's nothing wrong with writing Star Wars tie-ins. But don't claim that you're all about the art, man, and fuck the man, because you're doing your indie hardass thing that nobody else can understand when you're writing a book about Samuel L Jackson, Jedi Master.)

    There's nothing really wrong with grimdark either, and I don't get the sense that the Overworld is truly super grim since the book focuses on only the worst aspects of it, but Earth itself is definitely Grimdark.

    I agree with you that there's nothing inherently wrong with grimdark. It's not what I personally prefer, but it's probably for the best that the world not adhere exclusively to my preferences. I guess.

    That said, I don't think it's as useful to talk about the world outside the books, if the only way I experience the world is the books. If the book is full of horrible people doing horrible things, I don't care if it's all puppies and rainbows just offscreen. Maybe if he writes a romantic comedy set in the world, that'll change.

    Dox the PI wrote:
    takyris, Greek God of blowing shit up.
  • mrmrmrmr Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    I just came in to say that I don't read a whole lot of books. I need to be really, I mean really sold on an idea for me to read it (or on the opposite extreme, completely spontainous, spur of the moment "hey let's read this here's my library card" etc). That OP is precisely how to sell me.

    As soon as I have more time this semester (or after) this series (or at least the first book) is on the top of my "To Read" list that is basically filled to the brim with X-Men comics.

    Also, my brother used to continuously praise his Episode III adaptation, so I might finally give that a shot if these books do it for me writing-wise.

    Practice Round, my blog where I talk (mostly) about comics.
    p4.png
  • Apothe0sisApothe0sis Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    I am going to read the first one once I finish Shadow and Betrayal.

    If it is as bad as the OP and fawning make it look I shall be unrelenting in my criticism.

    Seriously, Kate of Lokys, you sold me on reading the book but in an utterly perverse fashion.

    Tide goes in. Tide goes out.
  • twotimesadingotwotimesadingo Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    tbloxham wrote: »
    I'm enjoying the first book, I think from reading it that there is no question as to the fact that the Earth society is Evil. No moral gray area there, the government and people at the top of that chain are simply evil. Overworld and Earth have an interesting back and forth, and I like the idea that Earth is using Overworld as entertainment but everything Earth does plays a major role in Overworld.

    There's not much here in the way of deep philosophical thought, but there's more complexity than in say, a Warhammer 40K novel. Still, Caine is interesting and the rulers of Earth are a good evil villain (seriously, they are without question a cackling moustache twirling bunch of black cloaked bastards)


    I think it's a bit more complex than that, though. Especially for the people who haven't read it and are thus getting an impression of the milieu based on the comments posted here, phrasing it this way detracts from the richness of the world.

    Earth is definitely... flawed. It's corporatism run amok. At best, I think that's what we can say about it. The moral judgments based thereon are more individual than "X is good, Y is bad." I would agree with your larger assesment, that the society, constructed on an inherently amoral premise, has grown into something that is brutally oppressive in practice. But - and not to wax philosophical - the Earth society is based on a multitude of actors who are, individually, generally not evil. Those at the top, however, well... But that's specifically the crux of the story, when you get right down to it.

    tl;dr: To paint it all as generally "evil," I think, is to somewhat miss the point.

    PSN: twotimesadingo
  • valiancevaliance Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    takyris wrote: »
    Read a bit. I can see it working for people looking for stuff of the Conan persuasion, but that's not really my thing. I was active on a messageboard the author frequented awhile back. The author was a massive grimdark poser. At one point, he declared to me that anyone who didn't take it to the limit by going balls to the wall to grind out the writing that fucking mattered most to them no matter the odds against them blah blah blah grimdark was a giant pussy sellout. When I countered by asking if that meant that his lifelong ambition had been to write Star Wars tie-ins, I was mobbed by his defenders.

    (To be clear, there's nothing wrong with writing Star Wars tie-ins. But don't claim that you're all about the art, man, and fuck the man, because you're doing your indie hardass thing that nobody else can understand when you're writing a book about Samuel L Jackson, Jedi Master.)

    See I love Conan, so maybe that explains why this was right up my alley; but it's definitely deeper than Howard ever was. As far as poser well, he always seemed like a genuine guy to me, but YMMV. Was this on Gabe Chouinard's forums? Grey cities or some such?
    Apothe0sis wrote: »
    I am going to read the first one once I finish Shadow and Betrayal.

    If it is as bad as the OP and fawning make it look I shall be unrelenting in my criticism.

    Seriously, Kate of Lokys, you sold me on reading the book but in an utterly perverse fashion.

    haha :) seriously its http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BetterThanItSounds . Hell, maybe its not for everyone. The works are obviously a lot more polarizing than I imagined.
    tbloxham wrote: »
    I'm enjoying the first book, I think from reading it that there is no question as to the fact that the Earth society is Evil. No moral gray area there, the government and people at the top of that chain are simply evil. Overworld and Earth have an interesting back and forth, and I like the idea that Earth is using Overworld as entertainment but everything Earth does plays a major role in Overworld.

    There's not much here in the way of deep philosophical thought, but there's more complexity than in say, a Warhammer 40K novel. Still, Caine is interesting and the rulers of Earth are a good evil villain (seriously, they are without question a cackling moustache twirling bunch of black cloaked bastards)


    I think it's a bit more complex than that, though. Especially for the people who haven't read it and are thus getting an impression of the milieu based on the comments posted here, phrasing it this way detracts from the richness of the world.

    Earth is definitely... flawed. It's corporatism run amok. At best, I think that's what we can say about it. The moral judgments based thereon are more individual than "X is good, Y is bad." I would agree with your larger assesment, that the society, constructed on an inherently amoral premise, has grown into something that is brutally oppressive in practice. But - and not to wax philosophical - the Earth society is based on a multitude of actors who are, individually, generally not evil. Those at the top, however, well... But that's specifically the crux of the story, when you get right down to it.

    tl;dr: To paint it all as generally "evil," I think, is to somewhat miss the point.

    Good post. :^:

  • Bloods EndBloods End Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    I would just like to say that
    The scene where Hari leads the breakout from the well is one of the most awesome things I've ever read

    "Hey, when you kick my leg like that?

    It hurts"

    And then everyone starts to die.

    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
  • SolandraSolandra Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    takyris wrote: »
    Read a bit. I can see it working for people looking for stuff of the Conan persuasion, but that's not really my thing. I was active on a messageboard the author frequented awhile back. The author was a massive grimdark poser. At one point, he declared to me that anyone who didn't take it to the limit by going balls to the wall to grind out the writing that fucking mattered most to them no matter the odds against them blah blah blah grimdark was a giant pussy sellout. When I countered by asking if that meant that his lifelong ambition had been to write Star Wars tie-ins, I was mobbed by his defenders.

    *shudder* This is why I avoid bios and interviews and forums of authors of books I actually enjoy. I don't need to know that my beloved Dresden novels were written so Butcher could sell the Codex Alera series that he actually wanted to publish in the first place. Makes me resent the Codex Alera books like an older child resents the younger brother because Mommy loves them MOAR.

    I'm not going to pretend that's sane or mature. I did, however, download the first Caine novel to my nook, and will begin reading it tomorrow.

  • Apothe0sisApothe0sis Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    I guess I just find it hilarious that an absurdly grimdark premise is coupled with earnest proclamations regarding the lack of moral ambiguity within the book. It reminds me of the COMPLETE MORAL CLARITY of the Sword of Truth books, just from a different direction.

    Tide goes in. Tide goes out.
  • wallakawallaka Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    These books don't have a chicken-that-is-not-a-chicken, do they?

  • LibrarianLibrarian The face of liberal fascism Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    I bought the first book a while back because of all the love it gets and I wasn't all that far into it when I decided the protagonist was too much totally-badass-haunted-by-the-past-kinda-ruthless-but-then-totally-a-good-guy.
    And the writing is really not that good, Star Wars fanfiction roots are showing.

    This is really no high point of the genre, if you think so you all need to read "Shadow of the Torturer" and the rest of the "Book of the New Sun" or the already mentioned "Canticle for Leibowitz" or some Banks or "The Gone Away World" which is pulp and has badass characters but is altogether more fun.

    Brad R. Torgersen says:

    Librarian,

    Go read what I said about not arguing with third graders.
  • twotimesadingotwotimesadingo Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    Apothe0sis wrote: »
    I guess I just find it hilarious that an absurdly grimdark premise is coupled with earnest proclamations regarding the lack of moral ambiguity within the book. It reminds me of the COMPLETE MORAL CLARITY of the Sword of Truth books, just from a different direction.


    You know, I had never heard of the "grimdark" label before going through the D&D Book Thread. Seeing it bandied about in reference to works I've enjoyed has resulted in my conclusion that it is a term best utlized to disguise an analytical cop-out. My guess is, if you're reading or watching any media of critical merit, TVTropes buzzwords have no real place in the conversation, and if you think they do, a second reading/viewing may be in order. Especially in the realm of writing, any work worth mentioning is populated by characters that, by dint of the sheer real estate afforded by pages, have developed beyond the point that three-word monikers can realiably describe.


    I can certainly see labeling Caine as a driven man... but Caine is a character being played by the novel's protagonist. As such, conflating Caine with Hari is just shoddy critique.

    Librarian's criticism at least seems salient to the actual work, but even then I tend to disagree. The hard-boiled "voice-overs" are supposed to be gratuitous: they are specifically to sate a violence-hungry crowd (not us, the reader, but the Earth-bound leisure- and business-people wealthy enough to enjoy the first-hands).

    tl;dr: The story is Hari's, not Caine's; if you didn't get that you're doing it wrong. Or maybe I'm just horrible with literary analysis.

    PSN: twotimesadingo
  • Bloods EndBloods End Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    Basically he's a LARPer being payed to be as generic badass as he can be.

    The actual story is what happens when he stops doing that.

    I also don't get the statements "But he's actually a good guy". No he isn't. He's the protagonist of the story but at the same time his actions are not those of a good guy.

    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
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