Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Things to look forward to

Advent being a season of expectation, hauling in green sprigs and lighting flames in the darkest heart of the year, sketching out the idea that light will return, here are some things I'm looking forward to next year...

1. Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie
In his book Clubland Heroes, Richard Usborne described a delightful quandary: given (I think) a Richard Hannay adventure by John Buchan, one of Dornford Yates' Berry and Co stories, and the latest Bulldog Drummond (in a cheerful yellow Gollancz wrapper)... which to read first? In the end it has to be the Drummond. For some reason, contemplating the conclusion to Joe Abercrombie's First Law series reminds me of Usborne's anecdote. Not that the series concerns a beer-drinking, cheerfully ugly gentleman adventurer (as such) - just that my enthusiasm for these books would put them top of my reading list, even if greater literary merit could be proven for the alternatives. My fondness for these novels matches that of Usborne for Sapper's creation. I won't attempt a review - there are some good ones at Strange Horizons ("Fans of character-driven epics who are willing to take their heroes with a grain of moral ambiguity should add this novel to their "must read" list"), SF Site ("In addition to excellent characterizations and fascinating world-building, Abercrombie also writes the best fight scenes I have read in ages") and BBT ("Do want an author who tweaks the nipples of the oh-so-revered Fantasy Formula?" - there's only one answer to that.)
Not attempting a review but... personally I wouldn't use words like cynical or postmodern, and perhaps not noir. I would say it's as bracing as a friendly headbutt, that the characters and plot threads are incredibly compelling (leaving one plotline to join another one in a subsequent chapter is a wrench) and that the humour is actually funny.

2. A new Gillian Welch album
Billboard were reporting a follow up to 2003's excellent Soul Journey back in 2006 - surely she'll commit something to 'vinyl' next year? Failing that, I'm tempted by her painting:

3. Final Crisis

Periodically, the unwieldy DC Universe (the fictional nexus of all the characters, plotlines and milieu in stories published by DC) gets a makeover, in the form of a vast 'crisis', involving all of the characters and their worlds/universes in a collective story that carries out a lot of housekeeping. For instance, 1985's 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' got rid of lots of characters, plotlines, tropes and history that either didn't make sense, or didn't chime with current fashion. Contradiction, silliness and outdated concepts were elided (literally, in a surging wave of antimatter represented by the white paper of the unprinted page.) A fresh new world with relaunched characters also 'explains' why, in a story that started in 1938, the cast doesn't comprise aged pensioners. Now you don't get this sort of thing
- in real life, otherwise I'd reinvent about half of my life (the rubbish half)
- in most other forms of literature - for instance, Tolkien doesn't relaunch a new version of LOTR with more more women, no Tom Bombadil, and a language that cannot create poetry (sadly).
But in DC the crisis story has become a regular fixture, so much so that persistent crises themselves have become a piece of slightly creaky daftness on a par with Bat-Mite and Wonder Woman being secretary to the Justice Society. Perhaps this is why the next one is called Final Crisis. I have high hopes for this, mainly as it's written by Grant Morrison, a writer of some genius who I believe has the chops to re-engineer the symbolic architecture of a fictional world that is an important part of the troposphere of the real universe, with some poetry, energy and surprise.
And he'd better deliver. In the runup to Final Crisis, all kinds of crass hatchet-work is apparently happening - for instance, Big Barda gets casually killed on the floor of her kitchen... a pathetic way for one of the noblest, kick-assest female characters to go. Hopefully this kind of stuff is some kind of prelude to a rebirth that will both preserve and renew the mythical lifeblood of these tales - otherwise it will be a fecking crisis...

Anyone else looking forward to stuff next year?

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