Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Ex Libris: A Post of Two Books (part 1)

This is a review of two fantasy books: Elizabeth Lynn's The Watchtower and Patricia McKillip's Forgotten Beasts of Eld, both recipients of the World Fantasy Award. (According to the World Fantasy Awards website, Lynn won in 1980 while McKillip won in 1975.)

Considered classics in the fantasy genre, these two books are also different as night and day.

Lynn (whose book I finished reading first) is one of the first female authors in the genre to have surfaced during the latter's expansion in the 1970s. She's in good company, too, having Patricia McKillip, Andre Norton, and Marion Zimmer Bradley as her forebears as well as tracing her lineage back to the granddame of the fantasy genre, C.L. Moore.

Lynn's book is more on the thoughtful side of the genre, coming on the heels of the fantasy publishing explosion set off by Terry Brooks' following in the footsteps of grandpapa JRR Tolkien in 1977. Plotting-wise, it has a tendency to sag in the middle and certainly lacks a bit on the action side though it doesn't stint on it when it does happen. Its prose is workmanlike but passable; however, it was a poor cousin to the rich writing of McKillip's book that I was reading at the same time.

However, I think it's the book's use of homosexual characters and its decidely feminist slant that sets it apart. (Though I wish I had a way of confirming if Lynn was the first to use these ideas in the fantasy genre.)

Does the feminist theme work? Well, unlike current feminist SFF writer Sheri Tepper who supposedly uses a sledge hammer to get her point across, Lynn is more subtle in preaching to her readers. I, for one, barely noticed it when I was reading her book.

However, at a time when female authors with decidedly empowered female characters are a dime-a-dozen in publishing houses nowadays, Lynn's work comes across as dated and can now only be appreciated from a distance.

(To be continued...)

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