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Plausibility and A Shadow in Summer, other topics arise - Input Junkie
August 3rd, 2009
05:42 am

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Plausibility and A Shadow in Summer, other topics arise
A few months ago[1], I wrote about the people in Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire seeming to be implausibly treacherous and have been told that no, the Middle Ages (and Renaissance?) really was like that.

Daniel Abrahams' A Shadow in Summer is an example of a nastyworld novel I find plausible. There's slavery considered as normal, treachery, revenge, and crime (and no implausible thieves' guilds, either [2]), but somehow, I get the impression of a lot of people spending most of their time doing useful things, and that's missing in Martin.

I'm not sure how much of the difference is in what's actually going on, and how much is subtle matters of prose and emphasis. When I read Martin, I feel like I'm in the hands of an utterly competent modern fiction writer (this especially applies to the first book), and I'm willing to be pulled along in compulsive page turning. There's a lot of direct connection to the character's emotions.

Abrahams takes a slightly more distant and dignified approach. His world seems as though it's absolutely there rather than being made up for entertainment. (I'm sure I'm describing my impression of his books accurately, not quite so sure about my implication about Martin's.)

I would dearly love to see some discussion of emotional distance in fiction. It's not the same thing as immersion. LOTR is highly immersive, but for the most part (Frodo's suffering might be an exception), I'm more involved with the story than the characters. Heinlein's characters go through a lot, but it isn't central in this reader's awareness. That's a lot of why while I liked Stross' Saturn's Children a lot, most of it didn't feel like Heinlein. Just thinking about RAH's Job and I Will Feel No Evil (probably the two novels most focused on central characters), the emphasis still seems more outwards towards the world and its details.

Anyway, back to A Shadow in Summer-- as you may gather, I liked it and recommend it. It's got an original magic system, slowly going sour. Poets can make demi-gods with magical powers, but it's quite difficult, and no demi-god (they're called andats-- the one thing weak about the book is that the names aren't evocative) can be made twice, though sometimes they can be maintained for the lives of more than one poet, and you're stuck with any subtle flaw in their making. A lot of the story is driven by a city being economically (and therefore, militarily) dependent on one destructive andat. Virtue is going to be *very* expensive, and people don't want to try it.

I've only read the first book-- if it isn't too much of a spoiler, could someone tell me whether the very harsh methods used to train poets is part of what's going wrong with the magic?

The book has more about economics than the average fantasy novel, and it all looked sensible. It also has an accountant as a major character, and it's refreshing to have a kickass character who doesn't literally kick ass in person.

I can't think of any other novel where the characters are so alert about each other's emotions.

I keep mentioning all these quiet virtues that the novel has, and I'm concerned that I'm making it not seem interesting. It has quite enough sex and violence and love and anger and intrigue and hidden identity to have made up a much flashier story, but somehow all that combined with the steady view and good sense adds up to a very satisfying book.


[1]When I reread it, the comments were better than I remembered.
[2]I'm happy enough to read about thieves' guilds, I just don't believe in them.

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From:sartorias
Date:August 3rd, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC)
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Wow, interesting thoughts. I didn't make it really far in Martin's first of that series--partly because everyone seemed to have the same sort of modern materialist worldview, which is a-okay in a contemporary setting, or in a caper novel, but just alienated me in fantasy. I want to see paradigms, and there wasn't any.

This one sounds terrific. Will add to list.
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From:whswhs
Date:August 3rd, 2009 03:27 pm (UTC)
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The books with that sort of feel that I've read and enjoyed lately were The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas under Red Skies; the latter has a fairly good treatment of pirate quasi-egalitarianism as a subsidiary theme. Have you seen either of them?
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From:nancylebov
Date:August 3rd, 2009 03:36 pm (UTC)
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I've read them both. I liked the first one a lot. Unfortunately, I read the second with a bad case of feminist checklistism, and I'm not sure whether I was fair to the book.

The thing is, sometimes the representation of women actually affects my enjoyment, but I'm not always sure these days whether I'm having my reactions, or am filtering through someone else's theories.

In any case, I liked a lot of the pirate ship stuff (unlike a lot of the reviewers), was very fond of the literal cliffhanger, and count the book as having an exceedingly fine "Oh, shit!" moment.

However, I don't feel as though Lynch's books added much new to the field, while Abraham got out into original emotional/mental territory.
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From:redneckgaijin
Date:August 3rd, 2009 05:22 pm (UTC)
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Your observation re: Heinlein's works might be due to Heinlein being incapable of writing believable characters of any sort.

At least, that's my opinion.
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From:whswhs
Date:August 3rd, 2009 10:06 pm (UTC)
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Tastes differ, I guess. What I find most memorable about Heinlein is his characters: "Sir Isaac Newton," Hazel Meade Stone, Peggy Kenyon, Sam Anderson, Grant Cowper, Carolyn Mshiyeni, Henry Kiku, and Baslim the Cripple, for example, are all distinctive and interesting.
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From:kugelblitz
Date:August 3rd, 2009 06:18 pm (UTC)
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Wait, guild existed but one of thieves is implausible? Did you think they would be so foolish as to actually CALL themselves a thieves guild instead of something far more innocuous, like the Import Export Gmbh or maybe the Inland Revenue?
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From:nancylebov
Date:August 3rd, 2009 06:26 pm (UTC)
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To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a thieves' guild in the real world, though I think there's been organized crime control of fencing.

I suspect theft is sufficiently secretive there's no way to get a monopoly on it without magical levels of surveillance. At that point, you'd need serious world-building, including an explanation of why anyone with that much surveillance isn't the government.
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From:kugelblitz
Date:August 3rd, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
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The Thuggees? Yakuza?
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From:nancylebov
Date:August 3rd, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC)
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Did either of them control burglary?
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From:kugelblitz
Date:August 3rd, 2009 07:24 pm (UTC)
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Thuggees? Yes, within their domain, albeit by control they did ALL of it and slew any outsiders.

Organized crime like the Yakuza? Maybe. As for the Mafia, yes in that within their areas, if someone under their "protection" got burgled, bad things happened to the burglars. As for it being a primary source of income, no, as systems go their efficiency tends towards more transparent methods of acquisition.

Theft arrives in many forms. Once a Guild becomes established and part of a government, or THE government like say, towns near Bruges in the late middle ages, then their rapaciousness is disguised as fees, tolls and protectionist laws that wind up being things like freelancers getting their looms destroyed or worse.

There are entire villages in Egypt who are supported by tomb robbing that have been in business since the first tombs were stocked with valuables. Is that a guild? Maybe not but it is system which supports many people.
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From:nancylebov
Date:August 3rd, 2009 07:50 pm (UTC)
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Thanks.

A full-fledged fantasy novel thieves guild seems to me to have an apprentice - journeyman - master structure so that you can have a little drama about achieving ranks and master-apprentice relationships plus a tight enough monopoly that it's harder for a stranger or poor person to manage to get a living.

I'm not sure that any of the organizations you list quite meet the specs, which I should have listed earlier in the discussion.

I quite agree that a lot of guild thuggishness gets folded into government. Weaving isn't quite such a secret thing as burglary, though.
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From:subnumine
Date:August 4th, 2009 10:44 pm (UTC)
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Jonathan Wild (who inspired Peachum in Threepenny Opera). In the long run it collapsed, but that's not uncommon for criminal enterprises or for monopolies.
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From:radiotelescope
Date:August 3rd, 2009 08:19 pm (UTC)
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Just on the word "andat" -- I heard Abraham read a chapter of book two. (At a Boskone, two or three years ago.) The way he pronounced "andat" was very evocative, in a way that I can't replicate at all. I was impressed. :) It was clearly, on his lips, a word of a distinct foreign language; not Germanic/Latinate at all.
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From:nancylebov
Date:August 4th, 2009 01:02 am (UTC)
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Thanks. I can easily imagine an author coming up with a very satisfying pronunciation, and not having the foggiest how the word looks on the page to whoever doesn't hear it the way they do.
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From:kgbooklog
Date:August 4th, 2009 03:37 am (UTC)
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I've only read the first book-- if it isn't too much of a spoiler, could someone tell me whether the very harsh methods used to train poets is part of what's going wrong with the magic?

The second book doesn't say anything more about poet training, instead focussing on succession rules (and gender roles).
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