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Imaro: A More Diverse Sword and Sorcery Adventure September 28, 2012

So I’m doing this thing and it was hard to figure out what book I wanted to review for this. I put all this phantom pressure on myself find something new and interesting or a lesser known author or novel to do, but that felt like trying to hard  and being too cute. Then I thought more carefully about why I wanted to be a part of this More Diverse Universe tour to begin with and it became clear.

Due to a variety of factors of my childhood I feel  in love with action books. I liked the idea of a mostly singular hero who kind of obliterated everything in their path. I didn’t really do fantasy books for most of my youth. They were dumb, wizards are stupid, all the different races were dumb, and all the humans were white. That wasn’t a real conscious decision I made at the time (though it is now), but there was always something to having someone specifically described to look like you (or how you would hope to grow up in your power fantasy) that was full on badass. So it wasn’t that I said out loud “I’m not reading those books because no one looks like me” it was more that with action/thriller/suspense/crime/mystery books people did look and talk and act like me to some degree and I would keep going back for more.

The one exception was anything Robert E. Howard had his hand in. Thematically, I found Conan and Kull’s adventures to fit in with my favorite video games which consisted of running right and hitting stuff. It was simple and effective. There was not fluff to it.  No time for overly complicated plots or massive worlds. Just hero – enemy – adventure to  enemy – kill enemy. It’s pretty good.

Then one fateful day I am just blobbing along the library and was cover hunting until I ran into this:

There was no way I wasn’t going to read this. Look at it! There’s a big Black dude about to be stabbing a lizard monster thing. I’m in. (Note: This book was in the African-American fiction section, which I’m grateful for because that’s the only thing that probably saved it from the Library tossing it years earlier. But seriously Greensburg library. Go jump in a hole.

Then I open the book and instantly am struck with how different it was from Conan and Kull and the world of Robert E. Howard. I didn’t realize how old Howard’s stories were because how would I know? But the world that Charles Saunders created wasn’t just different because there were black people and it was in a fictionalized fantasy Africa, it was different because it was written with a style and authority that Howard never reached for.

Where Howard’s books sought to exotify everything (seriously, everything was written to be exotic to his all white 1930s readers) these stories by Saunders were written to make this fantasy Africa full of verisimilitude. (I wish there was a less academic word for that). The world was  bright and vibrant and whole. The magic used by the Wizards felt wholly real to the world. Since it wasn’t trying to push how weird it was, it allowed  you to absorb this setting more thoroughly.

The book itself is exquisitely written. It holds up spectacularly. It’s been a joy to go back through this past week. The story follows Imaro, a lone warrior who is ostracized by his tribe. The result of this life makes him stronger and tougher through his childhood until he has his coming of age. From there the story rockets off in spectacular fashion as he runs into a variety of different groups of peoples and spirits. Imaro as a character is someone you can easily follow. He doesn’t always make the right decisions, but the decisions he makes (which are appropriately quick and well reasoned) leave you satisfied. There’s no point in the first novel where you have to put the book down to figure out why he did something.

That isn’t to say that the story is shallow, but there’s a clarity of focus with both the character and the story that keeps the pace moving and motivations clear. It’s a very good example of what I like most about fantasy (and stories in general). I’m not a fan of convoluted for the sake of convolutions. I don’t feel like everything needs to be epic. I don’t feel like everything needs to be so dark and I don’t need to feel like my main character can die at any time for me to feel tension.

Charles Saunders does a stand up job at creating tension, mystery, and other buzz wordy emotional responses without getting too dour or going for that forced emotional manipulation stuff. Imaro is constantly challenged by a variety of foes clearly intended to bring out different aspects of his personality and teach him new lessons as he moves on in his adventure, and without fail he meets all of these challenges and succeeds in a remarkable way.  There is something truly awesome about knowing your hero is going to manage to get out of this incredible perilous situation but not knowing either what it will cost or how he will do it.

That’s just part of it. The setting is magnificent. The first time I read this book I had never been exposed to anything like it. Any other books that mention Africa or a clearly Africa inspired section was mummery (usually done up in literary black face). In Imaro we are able to explore a ficionalized Africa that is as diverse as real Africa. The books makes excellent use of the fact that the continent is large and that sort of difference creates space for people to lead wildly different lives. There are the typically nomadic tribes as well as stationary cities. There are plains and grass lands and mountains and deserts and none of them feel stagnant. Saunders fully explores the different life styles of all of these people in these short bursts, and each person or group of people we meet fills the world out a little more. They’re not just set pieces either, you run into the different tribes or members from them here and there without it feeling too coincidental. The Sorcerers of all these different places are geologically appropriate as well. It’s just a nice touch.

Charles Saunders’ Imaro is a book I can’t recommend highly enough. It still holds up to this day and the sequals he’s done more recently are good as well, and expand the universe in fun ways. He also has written a series of Sword and Sorcery books with a female protagonist, Dossouye, that I would highly recommend.

Imaro got railroaded by stupid publishing mistakes and a moderate dose of good old fashioned America racism for 20+ years (Imaro was initially published in 1981 and didn’t make a return until 2006) and it’s good to see Saunders in the Fantasy writing game again. Not just that, but there’s a whole group of black writers doing Sword and Sorcery titles (they’re calling the genre Sword and Soul) and it really excites my little heart that they’re alive and that it seems to be working for them financially  enough to keep doing it.

If you made it this far you deserve a cookie. Or just how about this badass cover


Don’t argue exceptions September 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Micah Griffin @ 07:20

It always makes you look stupid. Always. Society isn’t not racist because of one African-American president. It isn’t not sexist because a few women have positions of power. It’s real easy to try and pick out exceptions and allow yourself to ignore the actual argument. You can feel smug when you do that, but you sound stupid.


SFF Community Face Check September 13, 2012

Filed under: Books,comics,Movies,Social Commentary — Micah Griffin @ 19:47
Tags: , , ,

This is a post that’s treading a lot of old ground, but all the recent stuff going on in the world of Science Fiction and Fantasy (and speculative genre fiction as a whole) made me think about it again. All this genre fiction is phenomenally racist and comes from places of phenomenal racism. Yeah exceptions, but look at the whole of it. Old days it was a bunch of white dudes patting themselves on the back for writing thinly disguised social commentaries that made themselves feel smart. Now it’s white dudes and white chicks doing the same shit and not really saying anything. It’s this big joke that no one is actually in on. The genre is filled to the gills with people  high on their own supply of white liberal bullshit.

Think about different races of fantasy/sci fi characters. Note how absurdly monolithic they all are, not just in appearance, but in cultures and motivations. Note how that’s how they deal with their ideas on racism. It’s always some white people coming into contact with aliens of some sort and they make a bunch of allusions to superficial conflicts and racism is bad, except for when it’s necessary because those aliens are uniformly out for blood and murder.

It’s no real secret, but that’s how white people view race relations. All of us different monsters are monolithic in appearance and approach to life. We’re not nearly as good as the default humans and our complaints are minor and could be easily fixed with some nice white intervention. We either desperately need help, or are too angry and need to be killed off or otherwise controlled in some way. The most we’ll get is a seemingly advanced society that is secretly even MORE awful at it’s core than the white people who come in to fix the problem could have ever realized. These magic alien societies are always corrupt. Unless they’re super white elves (shout out to Pratchett again for being awesomer than all his peers on that) who are more white and more pure than even the humans could hope to be.

I actually have a decently low tolerance for this kind of story telling because I didn’t grow up reading this stuff. I read crime fiction and military thrillers. There were always people of color around in those books. All the big genre heavyweights are ultra conservative pro guns pro military anti non white people white men, and yet, their books were a million times more inclusive. Looking back, now that I’ve spent so much of the last eight to ten years reading the Science Fiction/Fantasy stuff it is staggering how different the worlds are.

The reason is that on the whole, political thrillers, military thrillers, action suspense, spy novels and all that stuff over there doesn’t pat itself on the back. The people I talked to about those books growing up weren’t doing dances of joy about how progressive they were. They knew they weren’t. Dudes had guns strapped to guns strapped onto cannons on the back of their ford trucks. They didn’t give two shits about the idea of inclusiveness or any of that liberal nonsense. Their social commentary was blunt and the ideas didn’t match up with mine at all, really, but somehow it all felt less offensive. It was less skeevy that what seems to have been going on in SFF for the past sixty or so years.

David Palmer wasn’t president to make some sort of  political statement. He was president cause Dennis Haysbert was cool. Did Jack Bauer single handedly reduce the Arab-American population by half? Probably, and that’s fucked up. Thing is, no one is talking about how progressive a character Jack Bauer is. There aren’t legions of Jack Bauer fans talking about how Sunrow and Cochran (the show creators) are so feminist friendly and so forward thinking on issues of race. So when I say “it’s kinda fucked up how Jack killed Curtis and we quickly ran out of Black CTU agents” I’m met with a much less violent form of resistance. They get regular defensive because of race issues. Often times there’s a “Oh shit! I didn’t even notice.” There’s push back, but it isn’t the same as this conversation.

“How come there are no Chinese  people in this future where everyone speaks Chinese?”

“Oh, Joss probably did that on purpose as some sort of statement”

“What kind of statement? I’m too lazy to find Chinese actors to put in my tv show that I deliberately set in a universe where Chinese is the only language spoken other than English?”

“Why you bringing race into this? The show is brilliant. I’m sure there was a reason.”

“Yeah, racism.”

“No. You just think everything is racist. The show is full of black people, why aren’t you happy with that, you’re not even Asian.”

“Cause the show takes place in a world where everyone speaks Chinese, and yet.”

*Other person angrily walks away*

I’ve gotten more angry comebacks for talking about race issues the SFF/Super hero stuff than I ever got for talking about race issues in the generic Action Adventure/Thriller worlds. It comes down to the white liberal problem. It’s so hard for people who pride themselves on being forward thinking to be told they aren’t, or at least aren’t as forward thinking as they think they are. I mean. James Patterson is out here killing you guys. David Simon is making you folks look silly.

I think it’s time for everyone involved in SFF to take a step back. Stop congratulating yourselves on barely doing shit other genres have done before, and sometimes better. Not just writers and editors, but fans too. Especially the fans. Figure this shit out. You’re not nearly as good as you think you are, and it’s high time you recognized it. At your big stage you guys cheered on a stalker and dared anyone to say something. You’re a joke. You can spit as much game as you like about doing big shit, but we don’t believe you. You need more people.


Why the current system of capitalism isn’t set up to collapse on itself September 9, 2012

Keep in mind that profits don’t include money being put back into the operation of the business. 100% of that pie graph is the money left over AFTER that, which the ruling class are totally at liberty to redistribute more fairly if they wanted to. Too bad they don’t want to and never will. ~ joamette

That’s the thing people don’t understand about current finances and capitalism and all that. It isn’t just that these companies are making more money than they ever have before (which they are). Revenue growth is a thing for a lot of these people. Because of capitalism forcing smaller companies out of business more and more and individual citizens having  less of an ability to do  things for themselves due to space and cost effectiveness and time and education and a billion other reasons (make clothes, grown their own food, cook, provide their own entertainment locally, and a billion other things we don’t ever think about) more money is going into these large companies that can muscle their way into areas and completely disrupt local economics. They have no choice but to get bigger as smaller stores have no choice but to get smaller. The thing is, as they grow they can then afford to pay their employees less, offer less benefits or worse and cheaper benefits, force them into more hours if salaried or less if hourly and there’s no repercussions because the employees can’t afford to quit for even a week to find another job and every other similar place will treat them the same. So these large corporations are increasing their revenue and putting less and less into the company. It is only going to get worse as we continue to export this system of economics across the globe. The thing is, it won’t ever collapse. People talk about how it’s unsustainable, but it’s an infinitely sustainable practice. There are always people who need to work and are willing to do it for less money and there are always countries with laws that allow people to work for way little bits of money. It’ll change from country to country over a time, but the system won’t ever collapse under it’s own weight because the institution always wins. It has built in ways to protect itself form itself.

Not just that, but these fuckbrained republicans keep voting to increase corporate abilities to do shit like this. The whole point of capitalism and the free market is to exploit the most exploitable people and move on. Look at US history. White folks showed up and worked on getting Native Americans to work as slaves, then they tried to kill them off in a land grab and brought over a bunch of African slaves to do all the work. Then they had them keep doing the work through private prisons and convict leasing and a whole bunch of fun stuff. They got the Chinese to build railroads and snatched up all the gold spots from the Mexicans and made the ones who were suddenly not in their own country anymore dig it all up. They got black people to literally build all of the infrastructure that runs through the south and mid atlatnic U.S. Now we’re using cheap Chinese labor to make clothes and stuff way cheaper than we can afford to now. We’ve exploited just about the entire continent of Africa for minerals and labor. It won’t ever stop because a majority of people in the world refuse to believe that this is actually how it is, and when you bring it up get angry and defensive about it and claim it never happened.