Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Great Reread Project Mark III - The Letter C

I guess it had to happen sometime. Overall I've been pretty lucky with the rereads in that generally the suck fairy hasn't visited my books.

That unfortunately wasn't the case with the letter C this time around. It may have had to do with when Jack L. Chalker's The River of the Dancing Gods came out. Mid 80's. Back then fantasy largely consisted of a choice of Tolkien or Tolkien. I'm oversimplying it a little. Both Terry Brooks and Stephen Donaldson had published by then, but I always found that both of those authors were highly derivative of Tolkien. The River of the Dancing Gods was Chalker's attempt to do something a bit different with the genre. The book came out just as Eddings and Feist were getting started and also Terry Pratchett, so epic and comic fantasy were about to go through a boom, and The River of the Dancing Gods tried to combine the two.

Jack L. Chalker himself said in one of his introductions to the books that it had been in part inspired by him not taking much notice of fantasy for 20 odd years, returning to it and finding that not much had changed (he did seem to be talking about sword and sorcery, but it still applies. That subgenre seemed to get stuck in a time warp when the acknowledged father of it; Robert E. Howard, committed suicide), so he tried to write something different.

When I first read it, sometime in the 80's it did seem different, but now with 30 years of reading behind me, where the genre has come along in leaps and bounds, it appears as very dated. It's a portal fantasy. Two down and outs from this world are transported to a pre industrial fantasy land and are built up as it's saviours. Neither of them really showed any reason as to why they would be singled out. Joe is a truck driver with native American blood, who predictably turns himself into a barbarian type warrior (he didn't change his name in this one, so I kept calling him Joe the Barbarian. In later books in a nod to his heritage I think he took the name Cochise) and has so little imagination that he names his sword Irving. This is a gag that works for the first two or times it's tried, but then loses it's appeal. Marge isn't meant to be there and turns into a faery magic adept, but continually needs assistance from a member of the band they form.

The story goes nowhere, it's all very predictable and a reader can work out fairly early on that nothing serious will be able to happen to the major characters so the tension is completely killed (David and Leigh Eddings' work suffered from the same problem). Then there was the writing, it seemed remarkably clunky. I must have been more forgiving, or less discerning, years ago. Another thing that Chalker tried to do was use modern language in an older world. I used to think this was cool, but now I worked out why not many people do it, it simply doesn't work, it's jarring and anachronistic.

I did intend to read all 4 books of the Dancing Gods series, but I found it so hard to get through one fairly short volume, so I decided to stop there and don't think I've damaged myself at all.

Thanks Suck Fairy. Hopefully he hasn't been sprinkling his sack of suck over the D's as well.

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