Archive | February 2012

Do We Have Too Many Books?

This may seem like an odd view coming from a fantasy author like myself. And I’m not even sure if I emphatically believe it. It is just an odd thought that occurred to me as I was puttering around my house the other day. We have shelves and shelves of books around the place, so many that I wouldn’t even want to hazard a guess at a precise number. More than one hundred, less than ten thousand. Books on all sorts of different subjects. We have books on psychiatry, psychology, biology, and physics. We have fantasy books, science fiction books, historical books and more. And that is just this one house. Then, I imagine all the millions of similar households throughout the United States that must, no doubt, be similarly equipped. The number of books out there is staggering. And that doesn’t even include the libraries, colleges, bookstores and everything else. And then there are the ebooks spreading throughout the Internet like a literary plague.

 

My question is: are all these books necessary? If I’m honest–although as an author, this answer is not to my liking–I think the answer is no. We are suffering from a deluge of information. We have more books than we know what to do with. To be sure, thanks to the advent of the Internet and the rising surge of ebooks, there is a lot of garbage out there. But what about dated books? A physics book from the 1940’s? Or biology? Those two fields have advanced by leaps and bounds. Yet, how many old text books with dated information are circulating throughout the globe? They served a purpose once, but now… do we really need them, when modern textbooks contain better theories and more complete explanations? I’m not a huge environmentalist–I think the environment is a legitimate concern, but I protest the near religious fervor some of its advocates embrace–but every physical textbook cost a tree its life. It is clear to me, that we don’t need a lot of the old scientific books we have… perhaps a few copies in libraries to guarantee that they can be referenced, but that’s about it. Why not recycle the old textbooks to write the new? (Or is somebody already doing that?)

 

As a fantasy writer my primary concern is not science, but entertainment. We have the literary classics like Shakespeare and Hemingway, but there are a plethora of others who don’t quite measure up to such high standards. During my high school years I probably read one hundred fantasy books all by myself. I have no inclination to go back and read them again, but that doesn’t mean my nieces or nephews might not enjoy them. They were, after all, enjoyable stories. But with few exceptions (like the Lord of the Rings), my nieces and nephews probably won’t be reading the same stories I read. Every new generation produces its own wave of tales for the generation following. But at this point in history, do we really need to produce more stories? Can’t we use the ones that have already been written? Do the old stories become “bad” or “unworthy” because someone has written something similar more recently? I’m an author and I like telling stories and I like adding new twists and ideas in the stories I tell. But I know that a lot has come before me… so much, perhaps, I am no longer needed. That does not bode well for me. I want to write and make a living at it. But, seriously, how many fantasy stories do we need? It is already impossible to keep full tabs on what is already out there. I mean, vampires are not just mythical creatures of horror these days, they have become their own genre. Like other fields we can specialize. We can write werewolf stories, ghost stories, fairy stories, etc… I have no doubt that we can produce as many stories as we want, it’s just, when does it become too much?

 

To sum up. We have absurd numbers of books in this country, many of which have outlived their usefulness. Perhaps some effort should be made to recycle them (I’m not aware of any recycling programs for books, but if there are no such programs, perhaps there should be). Add to that the ebooks you can find on the Internet and it becomes clear that we have more stories than we actually need. Like I said, as an author, I’m not sure I emphatically believe any of this, but it was a train of thought I felt like sharing. Perhaps it is totally bogus.

 

What do you think?

The Changing Powers of the Vampire: From Dracula to Modern Times

Ever since Bram Stoker wrote “Dracula” (although he did have predecessors) the vampire has been a potent force in Western myth. The novel, itself, has decidedly Christian overtones, as that was the dominant religion in Europe at the time of its writing. As such, the vampire inherited a number of demonic-type powers from the forces of darkness and was seen as an agent of the Christian devil. Although it has been romanticized in recent times, the original vampire was seen strictly as evil.

In the original myth, Dracula could walk around during the day, although his power was greatly reduced. Later vampire tales embellished and made the exposure of sunlight lethal to him. I have seen a number of movies in which, after many struggles and battles, Dracula is destroyed by being caught outside with the rising of the sun. Oh, if it were only so easy!

Typically, Dracula and other undead of his kind, are presented as exceptionally strong and cunning, with power over some of the meaner forces of nature. They can control rats, bats, wolves and even the weather. They can also assume the form of a wolf, or a large bat, or even a creeping mist. But this is changing, at least as far as bats are concerned. I rarely read a modern novel or see a modern movie in which the vampire assumes the form of a solitary bat. This may be the result of the difference of the approximate masses involved. We no longer seem willing to suspend disbelief to the point where we can accept that something roughly the same size as a man can be crammed into something as small as a bat. Of course, this may be a result of another change that has occurred in the vampire. When Bram Stoker wrote, Dracula was seen as a quasi-spiritual being, almost like a ghost. He could slip through cracks and walk through the edge of a closed door. Today, vampires tend to be regarded as solid physical beings. And, where it might make sense that a ghostly undead could assume a smaller form, it is a little harder to imagine a physical one doing so.

Vampires also had a number of odd attributes, a potpourri of strange powers and weaknesses. They were repelled by garlic and their own reflection in a mirror. A rose, if placed on the cover of its coffin, could restrain it within as long as the rose remained in place. Nowadays, although garlic and mirrors are still associated with the vampire, it is a rare thing to see the rose employed as it was originally intended.

Another weakness was running water; it was said to have the ability to destroy the vampire if he or she was immersed within its currents. Again, this is another power or weakness that seems to be fading away in the literature. I rarely see a movie where running water is used as a weapon against the undead.

Finally, there is the matter of religion. In the beginning, Dracula was repelled by holy objects: be it a cross, holy water, a eucharist, or what have you. As the cultural influence of Christianity wanes, this aspect of the vampire is losing its appeal. I believe it was Anne Rice in her Vampire Chronicles where the impotence of the sacred was first introduced. That may or may not be a sad commentary on our society, but it is certainly a very specific change in the power of the undead.

There were other powers in the original myth, as well, such as being able to cross running water with the moon, or the tides, but I will not delve into any more.

To sum up, the original vampire had a whole slew of special powers, both strengths and weaknesses, that made it a very unique creature that was seen as a quasi-demonic force of evil. Today, we seem to be in the process of humanizing them, stripping them of their supernatural power and transforming them into merely immortal humans whose only fault is that they drink blood to survive. Personally, I don’t really like that development. I recently wrote a fantasy novel involving a vampire called Drasmyr (see the side bar if you are interested–Publications). I did embellish on the powers of the vampire a little bit, but I tried to keep to the original spirit of Dracula and the original myth at least as far as the vampire was concerned.

Here’s a site with interesting vampire facts (hat-tip to The Vampires Shadow blog for the link).

No Bookstores in My Hometown: The Death of Brick-and-Mortar

This past year, the Borders bookstore closed in my hometown. It was one of a succession of bookstores that opened in our local malls, remained open for a number of years, then closed from economic pressure. The first that I recall, many years ago, was a small bookstore called “The Friar Tuck Bookshop.” I purchased my first fantasy novels there. “Friar Tuck” was followed by “Waldenbooks” (I think that’s the same company as Borders), and then “Borders.” There may have been another one or two stores in the line, but those are the ones I remember. I was kind of annoyed that Borders closed. Now all we have left is “The Cornerstone Bookshop.” It’s a decent enough shop, but it only deals in used books.

 

I guess my question is: are we seeing the end of the brick-and-mortar bookshops? I know this question was raised when Amazon first came on the scene, and despite Amazon’s success, brick-and-mortar shops have been putting up quite a fight for the last decade or so. But this past year,  Borders, which happened to be one of the retail book giants, filed for bankruptcy, and was then liquidated a short time later. It is gone, now. And this, of course, spawns the “is the brick-and-mortar bookstore doomed” question anew.

 

The problem, as I see it, is not simply the business model, but the merchandise. Hard copies of books are nice, but ebooks are cheaper, easier to carry, and easier to purchase. Why go to a bookstore to get your favorite author’s next novel, when you can just download it on the Internet from the Amazon or Barnes and Noble website? Or, if you must have a hardcopy, just order one from the Internet and wait for the mail. Add to that the growing number of free ebooks, and I really do have fears for the brick-and-mortar industry. The only convenience a large brick-and-mortar store has over an Internet website is the ease with which one can browse the titles. But I think that will change in time as well. All someone needs to do is write a program that randomly picks out titles, and you have the online version of browsing. Actually, the websites may have that functionality already. If they don’t, it’s only a matter of time. I mean, really, if I want the computer to give me a list of 10 random fantasy books, ebooks or hardcopy, how hard can it be to program. You have the genre, ten books, and I know there are random number generators for the computers. It should be relatively easy. And how about sitting down in one of those nice comfy chairs to browse through a book you are thinking of purchasing? Well, ebooks already have similar functionality allowing you to sample before you buy. The only real reason left to go to a bookstore is to socialize. And I’m a naturally shy person who rarely talks to strangers anyway. What is left?

Movie Review: Ghostrider II: Spirit of Vengeance

I had high hopes for the Ghostrider film series. I’ve liked a number of Nicholas Cage’s more recent films including “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and the “National Treasure” movies. I also enjoyed Nicholas Cage in “The Rock” years ago.

 

Then I saw the first Ghostrider movie. I was all excited to see it. I mean, demons, hell, avenging spirits… who wouldn’t be? Now, several years later, I don’t remember much from that first movie, except that it was a complete let down. And the worst part is, it didn’t have to be. Everything was there to make a good movie: a cool looking character, sinister forces, what-have-you. They just didn’t follow through particularly well. They seemed to think a cool looking character was all you needed. And everything else about the movie would fall into place. Well, it didn’t and the movie was lame.

 

Well, despite all that, I still saw potential for the next installment in the series. I was hoping Ghostrider II: Spirit of Vengeance would be the movie Ghostrider I failed to be. And once again, I was let down. In the movie, Nicholas Cage plays Johnny Blaze, a former motorcycle stunt man who suffers from a terrible curse. In the presence of evil, he turns into an avenging demon from hell that looks like a skeleton wreathed in flames wielding deadly lengths of chain and riding a flaming motorcycle. He looks cool. He really does. But that’s it. A vengeful spirit must do more than look cool, in my opinion.

 

The plot of the movie was formulaic at best. There were the good guys and bad guys. The bad guys were searching for a certain child to fulfill a certain prophecy of doom. The Ghostrider is called in to protect the child. And so the story goes. The Ghostrider makes several appearances throughout the film, and whenever he does, destruction galore follows in his wake. And whenever he wastes a particularly bad nasty, we are treated with a “clever” one-liner whispered in a sepulchral demonic voice. But that hardly makes the film anything but a smash-‘em-up that is trying too hard.

 

A smash-‘em-up film can work. Like the “Hulk” with Ed Norton a few years back. It was great fun watching Dr. Banner hulk out and smash stuff. It had a plot and was fun to watch. The special effects were there, but they didn’t rely on them to make the story. Ghostrider II, however, is just all about flames and whipping chains. I noticed one really clever idea in the movie, and that was about it. I saw the film in 3-D, but looking back, I don’t even remember any particularly cool 3-D effects that I would be sorry to miss, so it even failed in that department as well.

 

I’ll give this movie two stars out of five. And I think I’m being generous.

Romance and the Vampire: Romeo vs. Dracula

Vampire stories abound, from the modern “Twilight” by Stephenie Meyer, to the classic “Dracula” by Bram Stoker. I’ve never read or watched any of the “Twilight” series. I am tempted to, if for no other reason than I’ve written a vampire book myself (entitled Drasmyr–see my about page for the link), and I want to check out the competition. But I just have too many misgivings about the fundamentals of the plot to even bother. In my view, “Romeo and Juliet” does not offer a reasonable archetype for a vampire novel. A fellow blogger (That Fantasy Blog) wrote this review, which gives an excellent thrashing to the notion of using a vampire as a romantic partner. But I have a few further points to tack on.

 

I get the vampire as seducer or seductress. That makes perfect sense. They have quasi-demonic origins. And, at least in Western traditions, demons and evil are supposed to have a quasi-erotic attraction for humans. It goes with the mystique and temptations that come with evil. Somewhere along the way, though–I think it may have started with Anne Rice’s “Interview with a Vampire” series–we stopped looking at the vampire as a creature of the night, and started to humanize him/her/it. Then came the romanticizing. They were the ultimate bad boys. The beasts that every teenage girl wanted to tame. Oh, please.

 

Bram Stoker’s Dracula was not intended to be a teenage heartthrob. He was based on the draconian tyrant Vlad Tepes for God’s sake. Why, oh why, would you want to romanticize that? Also known as “Vlad the Impaler,” Vlad Tepes approached torture and killing with a near-religious fervor: he set enemy soldiers on giant wooden stakes, hanging them up to let gravity pull them slowly down the length of the stake so that each one would die an agonizing death, and not quickly, mind you.

 

Vlad Tepes was evil. The Dracula character was evil. Evil is fundamental to the nature of the vampire. Not romance. But dark and insidious evil.

 

Trying to morph it into something else, something actually desirable is, as “That Fantasy Blog” aptly puts it, creepy. A vampire is an animated corpse. And yet the modern teenager seems to  want to have a baby with one? What does that say about us?

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