Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Monster Hunter International and.... Star Wars

I read Monster Hunter International and finished it yesterday.  It took about a week, and at just over 700 pages, that was a pretty good clip.  I had a friend lend it to me, and he's been talking it up for quite a while.  To be perfectly honest, I was a little hesitant at first.  My friend tried to sell it to me on the basis of it being a fantasy book told from a right-wing perspective by a gun nut.  I dislike political ideology in my fantasy and am largely indifferent to guns.  But I loved this book after all.  Great storytelling.

There's a famous review floating out there which is mostly famous because it's kinda funny, but it makes a throwaway point at one point in it that's actually pretty germane and interesting.  It talks about two kinds of ideological works of fiction; overt ideology and subtle ideology.  Something that overtly preaches an ideology is ... well, overt, while a setting that doesn't do so, but which finds itself steeped in assumptions is more subtle (to varying degrees.)  A great example of this (partly because it's not really all that subtle) would be your average book my S.M. Stirling--which a friend of mine once disparagingly wrote off as always having the same theme; the world is made safe by heroic lesbians, feminists and/or nerds.  Especially lesbians.

The Monster Hunter books are also more subtle.  Yes, they definitely focus on the notion that guns are awesome.  The author is a confirmed gun nut himself, so that's not surprising.  Luckily for those of us who appreciate but who are largely otherwise indifferent to guns, this doesn't really go overboard.  A lot of reviews make a lot of noise about how accurate and detailed the guns are; I didn't find it to distract from the story in any way.  I'm guessing that's something that the real gunheads can appreciate, but which otherwise doesn't factor into the story much.

Yes, the stories are set in the South.  Mostly Alabama, to be exact.  And the stories are sympathetic to the South and its culture rather than disparaging and dismissive (a trend that I'm glad to see reversed.  I grew up in Texas which is part of the South.  As well as part of the West and as well as completely its own thing to boot--but definitely sympathetic to the culture of the South.)  Given the predominent subtle ideology of most works of fiction, who are written by liberal folks who live in urban areas near the east coast, the west coast, or inland liberal meccas like Ann Arbor, Michigan or Austin, Texas, this was a nice change of pace.  I definitely felt like it was written for the vast body of "fly-over" states who lean reddish in elections.

Yes, the stories are not very sympathetic to the notion of government intervention, giving a distinctive Libertarian slant to the point of view character.

But like I said, this doesn't really stand out much.  It's all in the background.  Frankly, it felt like home to me.  It was written by a guy who understands the people and place where I grew up, people I knew from childhood, and recasts them as realistic fictional characters.

Yes, the main character seems to have a bit of a Mary Sue thing going on, another point I was worried about going into the books based on scuttlebutt I'd seen in advance.  This also didn't get out of hand, and before I knew it, I found myself forgetting that it was a concern I had going in.  In point of fact, the main character does have some obvious flaws and a bit of an arc, which makes the idea of him being a Mary Sue a little more difficult to pull off.  Yeah, he is large, likes guns, and was an accountant.  Same as the author.  This came across as more the author writing what he knows rather than making his main character into a super heroic version of himself.

The books have a fair bit of humor and light-heartedness to them; as much good horror and semi-horror does, while still managing to wrangle a pretty good deal of horror too.  In fact, much of the horror is overtly Lovecraftian, which is interesting, especially to me.  Clearly author Correia knows his stuff around fiction; he hits all the right notes for a blockbuster action movie, for a good horror story, it has some good buddy cop stuff here and there, it hits a lot of B-movie tropes, a lot of Lovecraftian tropes, and even a handful of specifically fantasy tropes, making vague reference to Dungeons & Dragons, and having a few things that were obviously very specifically similar to how D&D does them (in particular, much of the undead.)  On top of all this, it's engagingly well-written and reasonably fun.  I also borrowed the next two novels from my friend, and frankly, I've already charged nearly 100 pages into the second book, despite an incredibly busy schedule which makes that kind of reading kinda difficult.  Luckily for me, the second book is a bit shorter.

The second thing which I can't help talking about today, is the big entertainment announcement that blew up the Internet yesterday--Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm (including all subsidiaries) for just over $4 billion, George Lucas' retirement from blockbuster film-making, and the passing of the torch of Star Wars to other hands, with three new Star Wars movies planned with only limited involvement from Lucas himself as a retired "creative consultant."  My relationship with Star Wars is complicated; the first movie came out when I was five years old, and it's literally the first movie I ever remember seeing in theaters.  For many, many years I also listed it as my favorite series of movies, and if I had to pick a favorite, then it would be The Empire Strikes Back.

I don't hate the prequels.  George Lucas didn't "rape my childhood" or whatever other nonsense melodramatic language is du jour there these days.  I do recognize them as deeply flawed films that aren't really very much fun to watch, though, except as an appreciation of visual design.  The same with the various "updates" given to the original trilogy.  I own the DVDs.  I also own DVD-Rs ripped from the laserdiscs, and frankly, when I want to watch Star Wars, that's where I turn.  Much of what Lucas has done to Star Wars in the last fifteen years or so has diminished the franchise.  That said, the Clone Wars TV show on Cartoon Network, and the Old Republic stuff by BioWare have both polished the franchise off to the point where I can say that I'm excited to see new Star Wars material again.

In general, I'm more a fan of Disney than not, although I recognize where they've dropped the ball on various things as well, so I think the development is positive.  Certainly, Disney isn't likely to drop the ball as badly as Lucas himself has with the latest movies.  I think there's room for some optimism about the future of the franchise here.

A few folks have got to be on pins and needles, though.  The Clone Wars cartoon will almost certainly end at the end of the current season to make way for some new Star Wars content on Disney owned TV stations like ABC, ABC Family or DisneyXD (like what we saw happen with Marvel's Cartoon Network shows.)  Dark Horse Comics has got to be sweating bullets knowing that Disney, who now is the facilitator of the license that they have to print Star Wars comic books, already owns a world-class comic book company.  In fact, the world-class comic book company, which has mostly consistently led in sales and volume for decades.  When that license expires, I imagine we'll see Marvel Star Wars comics again, and Dark Horse will have to look for something else to do.  Fantasy Flight just started talking publicly about their Star Wars license for RPGs--how does that play into announced new content?  Probably way too early to tell, and I doubt anyone has given any thought to that yet (or will for a long time to come.)

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