Friday, 4 May 2007

Why I like the stories I like

This is a kind of follow-up to The Loneliness of the Postmodern Protagonist, which was about why I don't like the stories I don't like.

I like stories set in an environment that is somehow quirky, odd, eccentric or bizarre. (Hence why I hardly read anything that isn't fantasy or SF; not because such environments are restricted to those genres, but because you can be guaranteed to find them there.)

I like stories where the protagonists are not cynical, selfish nihilists, but people with a degree of childlike innocence, who want to do the right thing and will do so even if it costs them. They may be wrong about what the right thing is, they may get themselves in terrible trouble by trying to do it, and they will suffer, but that's their motivation. They care about people. They are engaged in a heroic struggle on behalf of others, and it's one that they will win - though they may get badly battered along the way. They're not perfect; they suffer temptation, they make bad choices, they get it wrong. Ultimately, though, they triumph against people who are grasping after power for their own selfish ends, or because they think they know better than anyone else what is good for everyone (and think that it's OK to have other people, not themselves, pay the cost of that good), and who "treat people as things" (Granny Weatherwax's concise definition of sin).

And I like humour with that. Either the characters don't take themselves too seriously, or the author shows up their quirks and foibles in an amusing way.

So: quirky, funny, not too dark, underlying ethical assumption. What have I found that matches these?

  • Terry Pratchett. Hardly any other "funny fantasy"; everyone else is either too cynical (e.g. Tom Holt) or not actually funny.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold. Particularly the Vorkosigan novels, but any of hers really.
  • Jim Butcher. Great thanks are due to Fred (Iago) at Story-Games for putting me onto him. Harry Dresden is exactly what I like. And I have the ninth one waiting for me at home tonight. W00t!
  • Julian May, at least in the Galactic Mileau novels.
  • Some of the later Ursula Le Guin, after she got over herself and got a sense of humour.
  • Some of the earlier Sherry Tepper, before she got under herself and lost her sense of humour.
I also enjoy some cyberpunk, despite the darkness, rather than because of it. I think if there's an excess of one of my favoured elements (in this case, bizarreness of setting) I'm willing to put up with a lack of one of the others. I'm just about to finish re-reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. It's amusing to see how dead wrong a highly intelligent and well-informed person could be in speculating about, essentially, the Internet in 1992. That's only 15 years ago, you realize? Yet before the World Wide Web.

I read a round dozen webcomics regularly. My favourites fit the above profile:
  • El Goonish Shive. A sweet ninja squirrel girl, transformation guns, obvious aliens who wear T-shirts saying "Human", and really, really good handling of human relationships.
  • Get Fuzzy. If a Siamese cat could talk, he would trash-talk, exactly like this. And the little dog is priceless.
  • Irregular Webcomic! Bizarre nerd humour, done by photographing Legos. Very, very creative and often extremely funny.
  • The Dreamland Chronicles. A 3-D comic that is just so beautiful, the story almost doesn't matter. (Not that it's a bad story, either.)
  • Scary Go Round. I got onto this through Vincent Baker's blog. High on the quirk, a little low on the ethics (but that's part of the humour), saved from being dark by its total absurdity. Great quotes, often in the final panel.
I wish there was more of this stuff. I may have to write some.


The Gamester At Large said...

Have you read any of David Zindell's books? They fit your description of what you like pretty well.

Mike Reeves-McMillan said...

I don't think I have - I'm fairly sure I've seen them at my local library, though. I'll check them out - thanks.

(Anyone who has other recommendations, please share!)