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This was sparked by belindabird's quick and dirty review of Strike Witches, which got me to reading Chizumatic for the first time in, I dunno, a year? I'd pretty much stopped reading it a year ago, since SDB's taste in anime is not very close to mine. (He prefers kawaii, maho shojo series, preferably with fan service.)

Anyway...SDB has a short essay on escapist entertainment which is well worth reading because I think it has some really useful things to say about why what appeals to me might not appeal to you and vice versa. deathquaker, revolutionaryjo, onsenmark and I really like Revolutionary Girl Utena; other folks not so much, and the same goes for a lot of other anime, movies, books, etc. Boiled down to its essence, the essay asks two basic questions: Does the story show you someplace interesting or attractive? Does it do a good job of drawing you into that place? If the place it shows you is someplace unpleasant, dull, and/or offensive, then the second question is really irrelevant - no matter how good the plot and characters are, the setting sucks, and you won't read that book unless you have to. This is why (for example) the Sharpe series works so well for me - the Napoleonic Wars are a colorful, fascinating period of history, and Richard Sharpe is an awesome character. The same applies to the Caiaphas Cain novels - while I find the WH40K universe pretty appalling on a number of levels and would never RPG there, Cain is similar enough to Harry Flashman (with a strong leavening of Dand McNeil) to keep me amused as he staggers in and out of one mortal peril after another.

This also clarifies why people find EVE and other MMORPG so enjoyable - not only is it a world one enjoys playing in, but your friends can share it in real time and even (unlike watching a movie or reading a book together) interact with you. Multiple win!

So - RTWT. You'll be glad you did.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
nornagest
Sep. 1st, 2008 07:18 pm (UTC)
Interesting article, but I think the premise could use some work.

The "place" term of his equation seems to break down into both interest (is there anything I would like to learn about the setting and characters?) and appeal (is this a world I would like to visit?). But the "appeal" component doesn't seem to predict future results well, at least for people that rely on something more than genre to make decisions about media; it's certainly possible for a personally appealing universe (say, one of the thousand-plus Tolkien ripoffs out there) to be utterly boring in execution because it doesn't contain any new information.

It's really all about interest. The Call of Cthulhu universe is about as bleak and unappealing as it's possible to get (the tabletop game has been accurately described as a race to see whether your character goes insane before getting eaten). But it's a very interesting setting; there's something cathartic about exploring the giddying brink of insanity. The same goes for most of the other settings I could name.
wombat_socho
Sep. 1st, 2008 08:58 pm (UTC)
The Cthulhu Mythos in general is pretty unappealing at first glance, given that the basic message is that the aliens/gods just don't care. Obviously it has its attractions for people like us, though, or Lovecraft never would have had the impact on modern horror that he did. As for Tolkien (and the whole elf & dwarf crapsubgenre of fantasy) it's like ice cream - a little is okay, and the occasional binge is understandable, but gorging on it 365 days a year will make you completely sick of it. I speak from experience here, mind you; there are subgenres of mainstream fiction I feel the same way about. The defect in those cases is that the characters are cardboard and the plots aren't much better. SDB's point was that you really need both components of the equation for entertainment to be entertaining.
edwarddain
Sep. 1st, 2008 07:32 pm (UTC)
Also fun.

The Lymond Chronicles by Dorthey Dunnet.

I still have to pick up her The House of Niccolò series as well, but I'm looking forward to them. Grad school just got in the way.
wombat_socho
Sep. 1st, 2008 09:01 pm (UTC)
The worst part of grad school for me (especially the M.A. in Instruction) was having to divert time I enjoyed spending on SF and other literature into time painfully spent enduring poorly written/polemic-poisoned textbooks. I still want to find W. James Popham and beat the crap out of him.
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