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20 July 2006 @ 09:00 pm
Good grief.  
I got 39 out of 40 on my driving theory test in six minutes. Only, at the time, I didn't realise I was doing it. I thought it was a pretend test.

I called over the lady in charge and said, "Um, I'm finished the practice questions and the screen's blank -- could I do the real test now?"

She gave me an odd squinty look and replied, "You just did."

I was there, "Hahaha funny. WHAT?"

I'm not at all reassured by the fact that they let people like me out on the roads, and I'm me.

David Gemmell

I quite possibly think this man is the greatest fantasy writer alive.

My view is coloured by the fact that I am not interested in feats of great derring-do and shiny heroics in fantasy, although I can acknowledge what a large and necessary part they play. It is also why I hate such authors as Robert Jordan, Anne McCaffrey and Raymond E Feist with a vast and burning passion.

(To be fair to these, ah -- no, I can't bear to call them writers -- these people who play with keyboards for money: I only slugged through three books in the thrice-damned Circle of Life series. No wait, that's wrong. I have to check my goram bookshelf -- it's two books deep -- Wheel of Time. My apologies, Disney, for so maligning your work by comparing it to this jockstrap's. I got merely a hundred pages into Dragonflight and Magician respectively before I had to stop, go away, and kill things.)

I had a problem in Midnight Falcon as regards the blatant rape of Irish mythology. It's not that I mind fantasy writers doing this, or even creating civilisations based on those throughout human history. It's just … cannot they be a leetle more original? I suppose Ireland has persistently retained its reputation for magic right to the modern day (mainly because it's quite a backwards place. See: my driving test). You can still go visit magic wells and trees and fairy forts if you're so inclined. Ergo, Irish magic is fairly recognisable. But please -- Tir na Nog? Honestly, people, making that into a real place is like expecting to go on a day trip to the Elysian Fields.

One quibble aside, and another springs to mind: the recapping. That was annoying when they did it in Sweet Valley High, and it's quite obvious that, despite the fact that those books aren't all bad, they were written to be read by people whose one brain cell makes them lopsided. I understand that Gemmell writes in a semi-standalone format, adding that cute little addendum 'A novel of the Rigante.' Oh die. It is plain annoying. I have no problem with reading standalones or series. What I do not like is reading a purported standalone that is really part of a series, and getting spoiled for all the standalones that went before. I only kept reading because a) it was the only one in the library and b) it's a damn good book. But ixnay on the summaries, kthanx. Murderous moods play havoc with my complexion.

Anyone reading this might be wondering what the hell is up with my starting sentence, given that I've spent the last two paragraphs grossly disparaging the man's authorial prowess. Not to mention the fact that, even according to me, Robin Hobb and George RR Martin are the pinnacle of high fantasy. As regards those two, however, that is just their problem. They aim high, and that was fine in The Liveship Traders, the Assassin trilogy and the first four books of A Song of Ice and Fire. At the height of their powers those writers could do anything.

But then Robin Hobb produced the travesty that is The Tawny Man trilogy and Shaman's Crossing -- which she publicly admitted was written on a sugar high. As for George RR Martin, he decided to try for Most Boring Bridging Book in the History of Fantasy award, and won hands down. It's all the more of a pity because of how great they were. Maybe they will be again, but I for one am not holding my breath.

By contrast, I would hazard that Gemmell aims quite low. He writes about barbarian warriors and armoured soldiers whom anyone can see are based on Picts and Romans. This is not why I love him. I am not an aficionado of testosterone-pumping battle scenes; that's where the cock lies, not the heart. No, Gemmell has a hold on what drives men to hack at each other until they're dead. The vainglory, the power, the revenge, the love. Even, in some cases, a simple worship of violence, carnage and death. But I can stomach that, because at least I'm being shown why.

I've long decided that Morningstar is the best fantasy novel I've ever read. To be fair, my fantasy reading is not all the vast. I'm hindered by a lack of resources, funds and my own vexing habit of expecting good writing, or at the least writing that does not smell like it was yanked dripping from the Pit of Voles. However, I read Morningstar when I was thirteen, and A Game of Thrones when I was ten. Most of the books I read when I was thirteen and ten I cannot even recall the names of, let alone say that they had any great influence on my life or morality or how I see the world.

However, I'm not going to discuss A Game of Thrones, or how its impact might be blamed on the fact that a lot of sex and swearing is like manna to a ten-year-old. Instead: Morningstar.

This is where the spoilers abound. Morningstar is the greatest hero I've ever read. I have to call him a hero, because he's not an anti-hero. He just sort of kills people, and they usually happen to be bad guys. He can't hear music and he has no real capacity for love. And -- one of the best things about Gemmell is the way he doesn't treat romance the way geography treats continental plates -- the only woman he ever came close to feeling affection for is a nun he never touched.

If Gemmell had tried to expand that into a longer, epic story, it would have foundered and died. As it is, Morningstar is a weeny book by fantasy standards. I'm not even going to try to locate it in the wilderness of my bookshelf, but I doubt it was anything more than five hundred pages. (Please, correct me if I'm wrong.) Gemmell has such an astoundingly delicate touch, always treading the knife-edge between over-bearing melodrama and crashingly boring battles. He is one of the few people who can break the Law of Conservation of Characters and not suffer any reprisals. This man ain't afraid to kill people off. So you don't get that terrifically safe (and boring) sense that in any given threatening situation, the protagonist will come out fine because there's no story without him.*

* Speaking of which, this is why most cartoons and comics suck. Who's ever going to kill Batman, or even seriously maim him? Or, like, Yu-Gi-Oh? If only one of his damn cards would spin off and hit him in the eye -- just once. That's all I'm asking for.

The only other person who can keep both that uncertain thrill and her characters alive is Robin Hobb, and only then because she monumentally fucks them up along the way. It's only when she gets the guilts and tries to fix them again that things go awry.

Yes, I hear you say, George RR Martin kills people off too. He's noted for it. However, he keeps up a cast of thousands. In Morningstar, there are about five main characters. I'll let you work out the maths for yourself. (Hey, I did Pass.)

Gemmell knows how to make you shiver, to connect with the characters and mourn for their deaths. Sometimes, he's monumentally crap -- nods to Echoes of the Great Song and its stupid glaciers and sartorially challenged master race.

One thing I noticed and really appreciated in Midnight Falcon was this little connection he added in to 'our' world. Both times it's in relation to Jasaray, the nominal bad guy (although, yay for Gemmell, even the good guys do awful things so 'good' comes down to a balance of deeds and character so rarely seen elsewhere. And Jasaray doesn't even wear a) Halloween masks b) red contact lenses or c) a bucket on his head, so he's not what you'd call obvious).

Morrigu spoke of a vision in which she likened the people of Stone and their 'evil' ways to that of Rome. This can be taken with a grain of salt, I reckon, mainly because I always thought the Romans were pretty damn cool and where would we be without them etc. But it was the fact of connection that I liked.

At another point, Connemar describes a world in which Stone triumphs and turns the, shall we say, simple magical Irish ways of the Rigante into that of what's obviously modern Earth.

I don't know why I love that so much, but I do. I absolutely support the idea that Grindlewald was Hitler, for all the evidence there is to shoot that theory down. I feel a thrill of delight when I imagine that little interventions and slip-throughs and mistakes by other races in other worlds influenced ours. I want to think that there's proof that we're not alone in the universe.

In short, I'm waiting for the wizards to come out of hiding. Until they do, Gemmell's the closest thing I've found.
Current Location: outer space
Current Mood: pleasedpleased
Current Music: Good as Gold (the Beautiful South
Insufferable, man.: firecarcynicalpirate on July 20th, 2006 08:21 pm (UTC)
Clearly you are some kind of a disturbed, psychotic genius. Although the 39/40 is good. It is an imperfection. Makes you human.

Here are some tips on how to drive safe from Salman Rushdie.


every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on July 20th, 2006 08:25 pm (UTC)
Man, though, there was a question on the response you'd expect from a pensioner driver. Faster? Slower? Hot to trot? I mean really.

I knew that guy was cool ever since he revealed his affiliation to LotR fen, and now it's confirmed.
Insufferable, man.: firecarcynicalpirate on July 20th, 2006 08:37 pm (UTC)
*tuts* Many a high-octane speed chase I've seen pensioners participating in.

And he probably knows what the word octane is and how to use it. Unlike me.
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on July 20th, 2006 08:39 pm (UTC)
They are the Toyko Drifters of, er, secure housing.

It's a fuel rating? Like how much ozone you'll burn per km, or something. (It wasn't on the test anyway.)
Cait: bad ideacoralia13 on July 21st, 2006 04:05 am (UTC)
Woot! Congratulations! Haha, I love that you thought 40 questions was a practice quiz, and am glad they weren't cruel enough to have a 40 question practice quiz and then a real quiz.

I hope you find driving more fulfilling than I do. Today I walked about three miles, in the sun, in 95 degree weather instead of just driving. I am LAME, and will make an awful soccer mom.
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on July 21st, 2006 09:55 pm (UTC)
I never thought of it that way ... I thought there'd be a few as warm up, but no. The dry run was just a bunch of pages telling you how to operate a touch screen computer. I should thank them for respecting my intelligence on that one.

Yes, but I have to beat my cousin. My license came through in the post today (IT IS BLUE!!) and I'm signing up for lessons next week. I daresay I will suck at it, but as long as she sucks harder it's all gravy.
Cait: pridecoralia13 on July 22nd, 2006 04:09 am (UTC)
Do people mostly drive manuals or automatics over there? What will you be driving? I learned on a manual, which was a BITCH, and might explain why I am still afraid to drive.

Good luck! Kick her ASS!
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on July 22nd, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC)
Manuals are really the only option here; you'd have to be very very persistent to even locate an automatic, and they cost twice as much to run. I'd love one -- but it'd be pointless, as I'd end up needing the manual skills anyway.

Oh joy.
Caitcoralia13 on July 22nd, 2006 08:41 pm (UTC)
Oh... sorry to freak you out then... You will be fine, I am sure. I think it would be a lot easier to start with the manual when everyone else is driving one, too - people here just kind of assume you're driving an automatic, so they do automatic-y things, like pull up right behind you on a hill, not realizing that you're going to roll back when you start. *sigh* Good luck, I think you will be fine!
gwathhenationgwathhenation on July 21st, 2006 05:38 am (UTC)
Honestly, people, making that into a real place is like expecting to go on a day trip to the Elysian Fields.
Oh please! That would be lovely!

That aside...although I'd agree with you about Robert Jordan (why has that series not ENDED yet?), I read one David Gemmell book a couple years ago and hated it. Really just hated it. I don't know, I liked some aspects, the fighting and so forth weren't too dramatic and I definately appreciated that, but then the relationships were transient (but not intended to be so, wherein lies the problem), the characters were poorly developed, and frankly a lot of it seemed sexist. Maybe it's the specific book I read, I don't know, but I never could get into Gemmell.
Thanks for the warning on Hobb and so forth though, I'll avoid those, I've read far too much poorly written fanstasy, and I'm reluctant to even go near the genre anymore.
Congrats on the test too. :)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on July 21st, 2006 09:59 pm (UTC)
Because he got verra mucha moolah for a ten book deal, I believe.

Yes, I did find that some relationships were exactly what you said -- transient. But sometimes he gets it right, and that's all you can expect. I know I look back on stuff I've written and shake my head in woe. It would be ten times worse when I'm writing to a deadline and for my livelihood.

Oh no! Don't avoid the early works by Hobb and Martin. They are untold excellence. It's just the later ones that suck.

Thank you.
Lord Marmaduke Newbrycatsmeat on July 21st, 2006 04:12 pm (UTC)
I've got an unreasonable love of David Gemmel ever since my dad made me buy one of the drenai books before a long haul flight to america. Unsurprisingly, I read it before we even got on the plane.

I think, all in all, that you've hit the nail on the head. His character, and I mean all of them, are a wonderful mix of good and bad that's unique to each one. As for not being afraid to kill of characters, this is the man that killed off Druss! You've appreciate that.
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on July 21st, 2006 09:48 pm (UTC)
Well, a girl whose name was Aoife but who called herself something daft from LotR 'lent' me her copy of Morningstar about seven years ago ... ahem.

[thoughtful] I do appreciate death, in all its many and varied and colourful forms.