Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Magic Goes Away and "Rational" Fantasy

   I can't believe I've never read Larry Niven's The Magic Goes Away sequence ("Not Long Before the End", "What Good Is a Glass Dagger?" and The Magic Goes Away). I went through a big Niven phase in the eighties and most of my friends read these stories. I know somebody told me the plot of Glass Dagger at some time. Still, never read them till last week.  As usual, there's a review over at Black Gate.

   They're not bad, just not overly engaging. I found 
the stories, like with most of my experience with Niven's writing, were better than the novel. His characters tend to be a little flat and he's given to lots of talk-talk-talk. I remember the last time I read Ringworld and realizing something like half the book (well, it felt like that) involved Louis Wu and his motley crew flying and yakking. If his concepts grab you they can sweep you up and over the longueurs and thin characters. .

   Sandra Meisel's essay at the back of The Magic Goes Away is a nice in-depth look at the Niven's fantasy stories and what he was trying to accomplish - rational fantasy. He himself referred to it as "rivets & sorcery". It's a great idea but I don't think he was totally successful at it. Not the concepts mind you, only the results.

The only other writers who tried to do the same thing that jump to mind
are Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. I've read a lot of the former but only Pratt's collaborative works. 
I remember liking de Camp's Novarian stories a lot but they're also played pretty much for laughs. I think as much as he intellectually loved fantasy, de Camp, in his heart, couldn't take it seriously and couldn't help trying to take the piss out of it. I suspect it's why his Conan stories are such slack affairs.
The Niven stories are played straight but they're fairly soulless, settling for bigger ideas than emotion. I think the only book of his that ever really moved me, and I say this a huge Known Space fan, was Inferno, and that's a Pournelle collaboration.
So, does anyone known of any other efforts to create totally rational fantasy? I know I must be missing some obvious ones ('cause that's the way my brain works). Let me know as well as you're take on the whole idea of rational fantasy.

This past week's music was indeed a healthy dose of Ocean Colour Scene, perhaps the lone survivor of England's trad-rock phase from the mid-nineties (Paul Weller doesn't count, being much of the inspiration for the whole genre itself).  This came to an end with John Fultz's post at Black Gate about metal band Conan.  Not digging them so much, but some interesting other bands got mentioned and I'm checking them out now. 


  1. I'm a big fan of Robert A. Heinlein's GLORY ROAD, which tries to explain, among other things, how a fire breathing dragon might actually work.

    1. I've been meaning to read that. I sort of remember Christopher Stasheff's THE WARLOCK IN SPITE OF HIMSELF doing something similar.