The Dresden Files – A Fantasy Book Review

Technically I guess this is a book series review.  Jim Butcher has produced fifteen books in his Dresden Files series of urban fantasy novels.  Starting in 2000 he published about one a year.  The series follows the career of Harry Dresden, a Chicago wizard who consults with the Chicago PD whenever a vampire, werewolf or other evil magical being invades his territory.  Butcher provides back story on Harry’s relation to the various hierarchies of supernatural beings starting in the first novel Storm Front but one of the very impressive aspects of the series is just how complex the interrelation between the various fantasy elements of Harry’s environment becomes.  In addition to the wizards that he is nominally a member of, he has varied bad relations with the Three (Black, White and Red) Houses of vampires, the Summer and Winter Queen’s faerie realms, an assortment of demi-gods, several types of lycanthropes, zombies, ghosts, Christian Knights a Chicago Mafioso and any number of demons and devils.

And in addition to the growth of the fantasy landscape, Harry himself grows in the telling.  He starts out as an almost ridiculous figure of fun who barely survives only because he heals very well.  But across the series of stories he takes on the characteristics of a hero.  He loses those he loves and sacrifices his own well being to protect his neighbors and innocents who are often thrust into the jaws of death by proximity to Harry’s homicidal enemies.  And we see Harry’s relationship with Lieutenant Karrin Murphy of the Chicago PD evolve.  They start out as uneasy allies.  But owing to the impossibility of reconciling the requirements of human law enforcement with the reality of battling supernatural monsters they often found themselves as adversaries.  Over time they become as close as family and Karrin ends up as probably Harry’s closest friend on earth.

We meet members of Harry’s bizarre extended family including a half brother who is part vampire and his god-mother who is a powerful faerie in the Winter Queen’s Court.  And Harry even becomes a father although under very tragic circumstances.

This is all just a rambling miscellany of some of the elements of this series that come to mind.  No new volume has come out since 2014 so my memory of it isn’t crystal clear.  But what is certain is that this is a fantastic series of urban fantasy books that entertains on multiple levels.  The story telling is compelling.  The characters are memorable and interesting, the evil ones no less than the good, and Harry most of all.  And Harry Dresden becomes a familiar and likable friend whose acquaintance you look forward to renewing in each book.  The whole series is a first-person account in Harry’s voice.  You laugh as his crappy Volkswagon Beetle gets smashed for the hundredth time by some monster and has to be repaired on the cheap again because Harry is always broke.  You recoil in shock when Harry’s pathetic unheated basement apartment, so often attacked by supernatural forces, is finally burned to the ground.

I’ll cut this short here.  I highly recommend the Dresden Files novels.  I haven’t read any of the independent short stories that have been added to the corpus recently so I won’t vouch for those.  I’m hoping someday Jim Butcher will give us more of the series.  They are excellent.

The Monster Hunter Files – A Fantasy Book Review

Larry Correia has successfully built up the Monster Hunter brand to the point where other authors like John Ringo and Sarah Hoyt have now penned volumes of the series.  I have not previously read any of these non-Correia additions to the MHI world but I wasn’t worried about continuity problems when I picked up the Monster Hunter Files short story collection.  After all, when you let other authors share in your fictional world you are assuming that their writing style will be different and that they will be interested in different aspects of that world or at least emphasize things differently.

And this is definitely the case for the authors and stories in this collection.  In some cases, authors with established characters are embedding these known quantities into the MHI world.  When that happens the fans of that author will be the ones who can best judge if the character was faithfully transplanted into the MHI universe.  But Larry’s fans are the ones who will decide if the fit is successful.  There are seventeen stories in the collection with writers as well-known as Jim Butcher, John Wright, John Ringo and Jonathan Maberry.  And there are authors that are less well known.  But the success of the stories also depends on whether the author’s take on the material fits well with the MHI style.  And finally, the individual reader will provide the most important component of what is a good or bad story, namely his individual tastes.

And indeed, that is the case for me.  Regardless of the skill of the author or even my taste for that author’s work, the primary consideration is whether the story is entertaining.  And that will be a continuum.  Some stories are enjoyable on several levels and can be easily identified as the stand outs.  Others may be okay and don’t rate top billing.  And some just plain don’t work for me.  Relevant to that is the interesting situation that the one Larry Correia story is not actually my favorite story in the collection.  I have to assume it’s not because the other stories are more genuinely MHI than his.  That would be hard to argue.  It’s just because they happen to be better stories by my criteria.  And this is the beauty of the multi-author anthology.  You discover new authors whose work you find you like.  My personal favorites:

1)            “The Manticore Sanction” by John C. Wright

2)            “The Gift” by Steve Diamond

Plenty of the other stories are good and were enjoyed but these two were the best for my tastes.

I would say the story collection is a success.  In fact, I see no reason why additional volumes couldn’t be published.  One idea that I think would be interesting is a volume of stories entirely from the point of view of the monsters.  This is actually sort of the case in the story “Huffman Strikes Back” by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Julie Frost.  The stories in such a volume would have to be handled carefully to make it interesting but it would be a departure and provides totally different points of view on the familiar characters and situations from the conventional monster hunting narratives.  After all there are a number of important monsters including some of the Shacklefords.  Highlighting their points of view in the stories would be entertaining and could provide insights that can’t be easily obtained from the conventional perspective.

The Dragon Awards Results

Well the winners were announced yesterday. You can see the official announcement here:

Winners


I’ll copy the results here:
Winners

Best Science Fiction Novel
Somewhither: A Tale of the Unwithering Realm by John C. Wright

Best Fantasy Novel
Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia

Best Young Adult/Middle Grade Novel
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel
Hell’s Foundations Quiver by David Weber

Best Alternate History Novel
League of Dragons by Naomi Novak

Best Apocalyptic Novel
Ctrl Alt Revolt! by Nick Cole

Best Horror Novel
Souldancer by Brian Niemeier

Best Comic Book
Ms. Marvel

Best Graphic Novel
The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series
Game of Thrones – HBO

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie
The Martian

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy PC/Console Game
Fallout 4 by Bethesda Softworks

Best Science Fiction of Fantasy Mobile Game
Fallout Shelter by Bethesda Softworks

Best Science Fiction of Fantasy Board Game
Pandemic: Legacy by ZMan Games

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures/Collectible Card/Role Playing Game
Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game (7th edition) by Chaosium Inc.

So what do I think?  Great!!!

What’s not to love?  Oh sure, I have to disagree with picking The Martian over Deadpool for best movie, but you know, it’s just the movies and movies are for kids anyway.

So good for the Dragon Con folks for finally making SF&F great again

Some people are saying that the Dragons are to the People’s Choice Awards as the Hugos are to the Oscars.  I guess that’s supposed to be a put-down of the Dragons.  But I’ll take that analogy.  Have you seen the Oscars lately?  Every movie they award and most of the movies they nominate suck

You can do a lot worse than let people pick what they like.  At least it gives you a good indication of what they’re willing to spend their money on.  And that’s good news for the winners.  When a Con that musters 60,000 participants runs an award that can really put a lot of eyeballs on the results.  And that’s especially good for the newcomers and the smaller categories.  Excellent.

Congratulations to all of them.

But of course a bonus feature of the Dragons is who hates the results.  All the familiar cast of characters.   The Puppy-kickers one and all.   But happily they’re not gloating.  They’re exhibiting all the familiar characteristics of angry SJWs.  The three laws in full effect.  Their pets didn’t win.  Fraud, ballot box stuffing, skullduggery and possibly even flimflammerry!  Larry Correia!  Vox Day!  Puppies!!!

The administrators must be questioned and found guilty of serious offenses.  Pressure must be brought to bear on them to confess their sins and cleanse the awards of its populist taint.  Special Snowflake Fairy Dust must immediately be power sprayed onto the contest so that next year the requisite number of special categories will fill the winner’s circle with socially just empowerment.  They’re not following The Narrative!  Attention must be paid!!!

Or something like that.  Anyway, bravo Dragon winners.  Well done.   All in all, a nice holiday weekend treat.

Bring on the SFFexit

Thoughts on the 2016 SF&F Awards (Hugos and Dragons)

Well another Hugo Awards has come and gone and the WorldCon convention (this edition in Kansas City called MidAmericon II) ends today after proving that the entrenched powers that be would rather eject legitimate members from their proceedings than allow any dissenting opinions.

I won’t review the whole event (see story at link https://voxday.blogspot.com/2016/08/truesdale-expelled-from-worldcon.html ) but the gist of it is that a well known editor of an on-line sf review site (Dave Truesdale of Tangent Online) was expelled from the convention because during his moderation of a panel on short stories he read a statement that blamed the current impoverished state of sf/f short story sales on the unpopularity of social justice themes. Apparently Mr. Truesdale has an audio recording of the proceedings and when he makes it available it is sure to be enlightening and highly entertaining.

But I think it is painfully obvious at this point that WorldCon and the Hugos are irredeemable. I applaud the efforts of the Sad Puppies to open up the membership to a wider audience (and I celebrate the constructive destruction that allowed Space Raptor Butt Invasion to find immortality as a best short story finalist (well done Rabid Puppies)). I even see that continued efforts to influence the nominating and voting outcomes could improve the results of future Hugos above the present dismal pool.

But what I am much more interested in is whether the new Dragon Awards (associated with the Dragon Con organization) will better reflect the tastes and reading choices of the wider science fiction and fantasy public. The fact that voting is free should guarantee a larger voting pool. Of course that’s no guarantee of perfect representation but it’s sure easier to get people to vote for free than having to plunk down $40 or $50 to do the same.

Right off the bat, an award that has both Jim Butcher and Larry Correia competing for best fantasy novel has got my attention. The Dragon Con takes place during the Labor Day Weekend. It’s just a couple of weeks until we’ll know whether these awards will provide a more representative measure of the broader taste in science fiction and fantasy. If it resembles the results of this year’s Hugos then I think that tells me that the great majority of sf&f readers just don’t care about awards at all and depend on reviews and word of mouth to select their reading material. Either way it will be an interesting data point.

A Lost World Re-Discovered

Growing up back in the Stone Age, science fiction and fantasy were my favorite reading materials. I was able to fill my spare time with stories by Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke and the other “golden age” writers. Being a normal boy of the era I could enjoy both the pulpy action of E E “Doc” Smith’s Lensman yarns and the more literary stories of someone like Bradbury or Sturgeon. Likewise for fantasy, I could find pleasure along the whole axis from Tolkien to Robert E Howard. To sum up, I was able to enjoy reading a gamut of styles in these genres that differed in literary sophistication but shared the quality of excitement.

Time passed. Other activities (school, girls, work, family) began to compete with reading for my time. Also a lot of the authors I knew so well disappeared from the scene. This combination of events meant that my knowledge of and interaction with the SF&F field became more limited. Also fewer of the new authors grabbed my interest as much as the old ones. I noticed that the stories weren’t as much fun. At first I wasn’t sure why. The sf still had a colony on Ganymede or time travel. But instead of adventure and discovery we had ennui and social issues. Characters were whining about their problems and their sense of alienation. I think the most extreme example was a book called Triton by Delaney. None of the characters were admirable or likable. The story was haphazardly written and highly depressing. Now this was a Nebula nominated novel. I had always assumed that Hugos and Nebulas were given out to really good stories. But over time I found that to no longer be the case. By the mid-eighties I had given up on SF&F. I reread old books I owned and read fiction outside these genres. Whenever I still bothered to pick up a science fiction story it reinforced that the stories now produced were wholly uninteresting for me and tended to openly antagonize my sensibilities. So I stopped looking.

Time passed. I came across an article on line (I think it was on Instapundit) talking about Sad Puppies and Social Justice Warriors (SJW). I read up on it and found out about Larry Correia, Vox Day (and his dreaded Rabid Puppies) and Sarah Hoyt and the madgeniusclub.com and Baen and Tor and all the other interesting characters. In a nutshell, the claim was that science fiction had been over-run by authors and publishing houses that pushed a social message based story type at the expense of what people actually wanted, fun. And that these SJWs controlled the Hugo and Nebula awards because of the small number of voters involved.

It rang a bell.

I decided to test the premise. I tried out Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter books. I tried out Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files.

And they were fun!  If any of this story resonates with your own experiences, I recommend you try some of the Puppy recommendations and see if they work for you.

So now I’ve got a backlog of stories to read and I can also follow the soap opera that is the Sad Puppy movement. I can cheer for the Puppies and try out their books. I can boo the Puppy Kickers and mock their silly message fiction. I look forward to the day when fun science fiction is once again reliably identified by its garishly colored cover. I mean, you know you can’t go wrong when you see a scantily clad woman in the clutches of a tentacled space monster on the cover. Jack Williamson would have been proud.