Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Modern Authors Part 1: Steven Brust

Books of his that I have read:
  • Agyar, a vampire novel. I liked this a lot when I read it, but afterwards I realized that I had no interest in reading it again, which is my test of a truly good book.
  • Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille. I liked this okay, with two quibbles:
    1. I have never met Mr. Brust, or any of his friends (that I know of) in person. But I have eavesdropped on some of their conversations on the Internet. And I have to say that they all sound exactly like the conversations in this book. It's a very touching homage, but it's not really original, is it? (Plus they can all come up with bons mots off the tops of their heads, which I can't, so I'm jealous.)
    2. I read Agyar first, and as I was going through Feng it occurred to me, "If this was like Agyar then X would happen." And it did! I figured out the Big Secret of Feng without even trying, which is always a bummer. Although to be fair, I don't know how I did it. I'm not saying that the two books are identical in plot, because they're not. But there is a similarity.

  • The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars. I had high hopes for this novel, because it was originally published as part of "The Fairy Tale Series," edited by Terri Windling, which included some absolutely marvelous books. I only read this one recently, and I would not rate it among the best of that series. My problem with it was that the narrator is kind of a jerk. At some point I asked myself, "Can the author tell that his narrator is a jerk, or does he think this kind of behavior is perfectly normal?" That's when he lost me.
  • The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years After. So there I was, not a huge fan of Brust's work. And yet, unlike some mediocre writers that I've encountered, it seemed like he could do better. He showed promise -- he just wasn't delivering. Then I discovered these two books (the first two in the Khaavren Romances series.) These are great! They're funny! They're written in the style of Alexandre Dumas. I don't know if M. Dumas intended people to find him humorous, but in Brust's hands it is extremely entertaining. The ornate style suits him. He does it well, which many people can't. It gives him a chance to show off. When I thought he could do better, I wasn't thinking in terms of "more pompous and more ludicrous," but perhaps that is what he needed.
Books of his I have not read: anything in the Vlad Taltos series (although I understand that it takes place in the same world as the Khaavren Romances, a couple generations later.) Perhaps I have to try them now (along with every other damn book that I haven't read yet.)

Update (October 2009):  Well, I picked up five of the Vlad Taltos books for fifty cents apiece at the library book sale.  They're not bad.  Vlad's constant wisecracks do get monotonous, but while reading Issola I figured out that they are a sign of inferiority -- that is, he only deploys them against his superiors (and Loiosh does the same thing.)  That was kind of interesting. Also, because I've recently become more sensitized to the issue, I have to point out that although Dragaera contains seventeen different ethnic groups (the Great Houses) and a few other races as well, all of them seem to be white.  That is unrealistic.

In Part 2, I'll discuss one of Brust's co-authors, and a related author.

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