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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?

Kate of Lokys on
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.
«13

Posts

  • RchanenRchanen Registered User regular
    edited February 2011
    Damn.

    Thought this was going to be about Ciaphas Cain.

    Still, does look interesting.

    Toldo wrote:
    Preacher wrote:
    Skinny guys fight till their burger. Screw debates lets have Barack Obama and Willard Romney rumble in the mofoing jungle.
    Obama punches Romney.
    "Okay, now wait a minute. You've had your turn. Let me have a turn. Wait a minute," Romney says.
    Obama punches Romney.
  • 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...
    Spoiler:

    XMSODhjrer45.gif
  • 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.

    camo_sig2.png
  • 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.

    “You could tell by the way he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him.”
  • 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.

    Toldo wrote:
    Preacher wrote:
    Skinny guys fight till their burger. Screw debates lets have Barack Obama and Willard Romney rumble in the mofoing jungle.
    Obama punches Romney.
    "Okay, now wait a minute. You've had your turn. Let me have a turn. Wait a minute," Romney says.
    Obama punches Romney.
  • 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...
    Spoiler:

    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.

    “You could tell by the way he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him.”
  • 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.

    Height: 5' 11" Weight: 225 Goal: 200
  • 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..
    Spoiler:

    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 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
    Spoiler:

    and

    for Blade of Tyshalle:
    http://www.amazon.com/Blade-Tyshalle-Matthew-Woodring-Stover/dp/0345421442
    Spoiler:

  • 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.

    “You could tell by the way he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him.”
  • 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."

  • 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.

  • 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.

    What I see sees me.
    SODOMISE INTOLERANCE
    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.

  • 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
    Spoiler:

    [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.

    What I see sees me.
    SODOMISE INTOLERANCE
    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 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.

    friedegg wrote: »
    Lord of the Flies. Frightening. Especially if you are a fat kid with glasses.
  • 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.

  • 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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