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Middlemarch: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Reviews and Criticism (A Norton Critical Edition)
Bert G. Hornback, George Eliot
The Magic Mountain
Thomas Mann, John E. Woods
Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel García Márquez
Wizard's First Rule - Terry Goodkind The text wants rhetorical discipline, its worst problem, and likewise evidences, at best, an amateur aesthetics.

The text moreover adopts a number of trite narrative elements, including the hero's journey, the numinous object, the freudian psychodrama, the derivative Teutonic creatures, the 'system' of magickes--the last of which is a routine mechanic of pseudo-rationalized fantasy, wherein the author appreciates the Mystical sufficiently to write about ghosts and goblins, but doesn't trust the narrative to represent mystical occurrences in mystical terms, and accordingly reverts to a more familiar rhetoric of science or business or whatever else is bricolage for a writer who can't be bothered to think about the text as it's being written. (This author's purported 'system' appears to be more simplistic than double-entry bookkeeping, and is based on the same principles.)

People complain about the author's politics (Ayn Rand libertarianism), but I didn't find them intrusive in this text. (Later installments, however, are simply John Galt speaking.) In this regard, the politics championed by this text are not out of step with normal post-tolkienian fare: heroic individualism, based upon freedom of the will, acknowledging the doctrine of moral culpability for actions because of same, with world-historical consequences to follow thereupon. We might designate it a 'thematic cliche.'

The author is generally following a subgeneric path in fantasy fiction that is well traveled. It's accordingly difficult to call him out on the carpet for writing in a marketable subgenre when so many others are doing the same--though we might chuckle a bit when the author claims, exterior to this text, that he isn't writing fantasy fiction at all. Post-tolkienianism does not transcend fantasy fiction, however, no matter how loudly writers or readers protest their inclusion within the subgenre.

Negatives aside, the novel does possess a decent moment, when, halfway through, the numinous object is apparently recovered, a plot coupon that the seven samurai protagonists might therefore remit to the author and thereby purchase their eucatastrophe--but, more or less ex nihilo, a coven of dominatrices abduct the naive rural virgin hero (another cliche, that) and subject him to sadistic corporeal interrogation. (I do not designate it as 'torture' because I suspect that the author approves of such things when the CIA performs them on kidnapped moslems.)

This decent moment is not present in the tolkienian tradition, even off-screen (where corporeal sadism is surely committed, and one might assume sexual abuse of prisoners, but an express bondage fetish is external thereto). We therefore might thank this novel for presenting the sexual violence that was always already present under the surface of the subgenre, but repressed for whatever reasons, a subgenre which historically has displayed a fairly cavalier attitude toward war and oft dismissive attitude toward progressive gender politics.

The decent moment is nevertheless wasted, and transformed into its opposite, an indecent durance: the main weirdness here is the inversion, at least in this installment, where the victim of sexual violence is primarily the male protagonist, whose abusers become eventually his fondly retained employees--which suggests that the sexual violence wasn't really abuse at all, unless the implication is that sexual violence is no big deal, and therefore "all'y'all rape victims need to get over it and offer your rapists a job."

It must furthermore be noted that the worst cliche in the entire text is the eponymous 'rule,' which is a colloquial axiom of small value, likely stated with confidence by pre-school children throughout the world, but adequately described by the Gramscian notion of "common sense," rendering it therefore ideologically deplorable. The only writerly virtue of the titular rule is that it constitutes the supreme example of bathos in fantasy fiction, juxtaposing as it does the completely philistine substance of the rule with the high expectations a reader might otherwise have, especially a reader familiar with the esoteric content from which the rule allegedly arises.

One must admire, ultimately, this attempt to fuse Tolkien with Krafft-Ebing, even if unsuccessful, and even if unintentional. That said, the text's other deficiencies are not canceled by the solitary decency of the introduction of sadomasochistic fetishism into the narrative.

This text should nonetheless be required reading for persons who have more than a casual interest in fantasy fiction.