Paradigm Shifts and Power Struggles (My Reading Journey)

The chair bobs to the surface of a storm-wracked sea. Snow and rain lash down in equal measures from a sky, pregnant with the promise of further misery. My imaginary crowd lies huddled, terrified yet defiant, in the hold of a boat redolent of a Viking longship.

One intrepid member, aloft in the crow’s nest of this non-existent ship cries, “The Chair! The Chair!”

It is soon repeated with greater and greater clamor and hope once more reenters their voices. They, who were leaderless, have rediscovered their vagabond of a blogger. Bereft and bemoaning the cruelness of fate, they have languished without word or explanation. For I have been gone for several days with nary a post to be seen.

They let me stew a bit in these storm-tossed waters, where be dragons and other unnecessarily lethal beasties. Finally one member scratches his head and the bright shine of an impending idea enters his luminous eyes. He has espied a rope and a means to bring me back from the depths. It is tossed and caught and without further ado I am dragged, chair and all, to the deck of this ship.

Chair and man alike are soggy and waterlogged. Where have we been? Drowning in a sea of Skyrim. Sad, I know, yet wholly to be expected. So much to see and do in this world. But enough of that. There are things that must be spoken of lest they disappear forever.

Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today to speak of a journey. One not taken by many Americans according to stereotypes, that of the reader. I am here to talk of my particular journey and where I stand on its long and arduous path.

It began, as mentioned in an earlier post, with my parents and their nurturing of a spirit of readerness within my young frame. Once my dad gifted me with those three books and my soul stolen irrevocably away, I descended into an orgy of nerdiness (quite possibly the first and only time those words have shared a sentence). I devoured every fantasy book I could find and many a genre-bender in between. Forgotten Realms became my setting of choice as my tastes evolved into a simpler yet ultimately comforting preference.

One day, lost to the misty haze of bygone ages, I picked up a Warhammer Fantasy book. As I greedily devoured the book as a pig devours a smorgasbord of scraps (how’s that for an image?) I realized that I had missed something. The Forgotten Realms were ultimately about hope and the triumph of heroes over dire yet conquerable threats. Not so these books. I realized these were dark times and dark anti-heroes were called for. The threats they faced were terrifying for their utter inimical hatred for mankind. Elves and dwarves abounded, but these were far from the jolly companions featured in so many other fantasy books. These too were grim and dark as their light faded from a world in which they no longer played a role of greatness. Man were those books grim, but ultimately uplifting. The heroes would still do their heroic thing (although not always and sometimes the heroes consisted of entire armies), but their goals and means of doing so were in shades of grey. The darkness they conquered still existed at the end of the day in some other fashion, but for the moment it was beaten and left to brood, diminished and shattered. These books marked my first foray into what has since been termed “gritty” science fiction and fantasy.

I have not since turned back. I scoffed once at the notion of science fiction. Laughing in faces and rebuffing all efforts to diversify my portfolio of readership. “Guns,” I mocked, “What are guns compared to the nobility of sword and shield, of bow and arrow, of cliché medieval thing to cliché medieval thing?”

Driven once more by my father, I finally relented and inhaled a copy of Dune. This book did much to dispel my prejudice against the Science Fiction genre. Once in a while I was prompted to cast a jaded eye over these books usually dealing with the bright (or in many cases not so bright) future. Then I once more experienced a paradigm shift. I picked up a copy of Gaunt’s Ghosts by my now favorite author, Mr. Dan Abnett. I read of an Imperium so vast and incomprehensible yet strangely familiar, of space marines and vast armies fighting in the name of shadowy individuals and a god who may or may not be dead. The grimdark future had sung its siren’s song and I was utterly beguiled.

Now it was fantasy at which I scoffed and spat. I read every Warhammer 40,000 book I could get my grubby hands on. I soon found others along similar themes. I built shrines to Dan Abnett and Graham McNeill (not really) and temples made from their books.

A few years passed (with hundreds of books littering the path behind me) and I, as is my usual wont, was in Barnes and Noble and making a beeline for my beloved series of books. My eyes did perchance to glance sideways and I saw an innocuous yet hefty tome, glittering in golden cardboard.

This book was A Game of Thrones and it was everything I loved about the Fantasy genre plus political struggle, flawed heroes, cursing, combat, and an author unafraid to kill my favorite characters.

The fantasy camp once more had me as a vocal and ardent supporter.

My journey as a reader has been one of struggle and hardship (as much as reading can ever be). It has been marked by struggle betwixt two genres, which although interrelated, are nevertheless the dominion of entirely different settings (although some overlap is inevitable). At the end though, I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey for what it is and what it has meant for me. I still am stuck in the vicious and endless cycle between genres. New authors have emerged on the scene that have me bouncing between genres like a hyperactive child. Joe Abercrombie, Stephen Lynch and Aaron Dembski-Bowden hold me enthralled with sympathetic villains, master thieves and intricate story plots, while old mainstays still have my undying affection. This long road has left be branded as a “nerd” or “geek” and with a library of books that fills several rooms.

Do I regret any of it? The answer is a resounding, “nope.”


Leave a Reply