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The Prînce of Nöthing Review

Sunday, August 7th, 2011 | Posted by Theo

saladine28099s-spyAbout twenty years ago, I was at a used bookstore and I picked up what looked like an interesting medieval spin on James Bond. It was set during the period of the Crusades, but appeared to be conceived as an action-thriller series rather like The Executioner, Mack Bolan. I started reading it, but around page 30, when the slave girl sent by Saladin to spy on the Crusaders was in full throat enjoying her third rape at the hands of her captors, I suddenly realized that the book was not a historical novel but rather one of those strange 70’s porn novels with a thin veneer of historical fiction.

A little research indicates that the book was probably the fifth book in the Crusader series, Saladin’s Spy (1986), written by an author very familiar to Black Gate readers, although he published it under the pen name “John Cleve” rather than Andrew J. Offutt. I hadn’t thought about that book for years, until I was casting about for a way to explain the epic fantasy of R. Scott Bakker’s series entitled The Prince of Nothing.


Bakker, like Joe Abercrombie, is often compared to George R.R. Martin, but except for the fact that both men happen to write oversized fantasies, there is almost nothing in common between the two authors. Whereas Martin’s world is readily accessible, full of characters that are personable even when they engage in reprehensible actions, Bakker’s is a bizarre pastiche of unpronounceable names, thinly disguised references to philosophers, and quests that are hidden from the reader as well as nearly all of the characters. While Bakker does, like Martin, write “adult fantasy” that contains both erotic and violent content, Bakker goes Martin one step better in pushing the “artistic” boundaries; whereas Martin is usually content to settle for incest, implied homosexuality, and however one wishes to describe the wedding scene in A Dance with Dragons when Reek “prepares” Ramsey Bolton’s bride, Bakker prefers to go in for outright rape. Men get raped, women get raped, little children get raped, and when someone isn’t getting raped, then the beautiful prostitute with a heart of gold, who is also extremely clever and idolized by the soldiery, is having sex with someone. Or, as the case may be, something.

prince1More blood. More titties.” This is clearly more than just a philosophical creed for Bakker, it is quite evidently his raison d’écriture. Which is fine, if you like that sort of thing. It just strikes me as less of an advance in the state of epic fantasy literature than it does a mainstreaming of the sort of porn that “John Cleve” was publishing 30 years ago. The crusader theme is far from the only similarity between Cleve’s kitsch and Bakker’s epic. The problem is that to a generation that has seen Saw turned into an amusement park ride, the killer rapes of the abomination Xurjranc and his GWAR-like appendage borders on the comedic and is arguably less “shocking” and “transgressive” than the lethal catapulting of the much-penetrated slave girl would have been to readers raised on Halloween and The Nightmare on Elm Street. This is a pity, because underneath the juvenile desire to shock and the apparent porn obsession is a pretty interesting writer with an impressive talent for world-building and mystic horror.

Bakker is a more intellectual writer than either Martin or Abercrombie. The interplay between the various schools of sorcery were some of the most interesting aspects of the three books and the palpable fear that the common soldiers had for the sorcerors was well-founded and felt more realistic than is usually the case. The Dream of Seswatha is as creatively used as it is conceived, the skin spies are some of the most disturbing dopplegangers in the history of literature, and unlike many of his secular counterparts, Bakker understands that religion is a genuinely powerful force in human events even if he doesn’t quite see any point in it. Bakker’s work is perhaps the foremost example of Nietzschean post-moral fantasy, ironically, it is likely to harbor its greatest appeal for those who are unmoved by its transgressive pretensions.

Style: 4 of 5. His unusual affection for umlauts and diacritics aside, Bakker is a competent and effective stylist. While the fog index can be high, he often uses this to good effect in creating a real sense of age and mysticism throughout the three books.

Story: 3 of 5. There is an interesting story of epic scope underneath, but it is so heavily weighed down by the mass of details and the characters that it can occasionally be hard to even remember that it is there. The plot is not exactly one that is going to keep you on the seat of your pants while reading, although it might give you nightmares later.

warrior-prophetCharacters: 1 of 5. The weakest link. Few of Bakker’s characters are likable or even particularly interesting from a personal perspective. The fact that the eponymous protagonist is a chameleon doesn’t really help, and there is absolutely no way to tell a “good” character from a “bad” one since no one has any discernable moral code by which they could be judged. While none of the major characters are so annoying that the reader is absolutely rooting for them to die, (as in the lamentable case of Robert Jordan’s Rand al’Thor), no amount of sanguinary pyrotechnics allows Bakker to play upon the reader’s emotions because it’s almost impossible to care if any of this sad collection of damaged individuals lives, dies, has fabulous sex, or is raped to death.

Originality: 4 of 5. Both Bakker’s world-building and his use of historical and philosophical references are superior, even if occasionally misplaced in the mouths of the characters.

Overall: 6 of 10. Despite what other I would be much more inclined to recommend A Prince of Nothing to Nietzsche enthusiasts or aficionados of torture porn than to fans of A Game of Thrones. There is real potential there, but Bakker will need to significantly alter his philosophy regarding the aesthetic irrelevance of morality if he is to ever realize it.

Text Sample: Achamian turned and saw Nautzera amid a field of smoking husks. Shielded by his Wards, the sorcerer laid the dead king on the ground, whispering words Achamian could not hear but had dreamed innumerable times: “Turn your soul’s eye from this world, dear friend … Turn so that your heart might be broken no more.”

thousandfoldWith the force of a toppled tower, the dragon thundered to earth, his descent yanking smoke and ash into towering veils. Portcullis jaws clacked shut. Wings like war-galley sails stretched out. The light of burning corpses shimmered across iridescent scales of black.
“Our Lord,” the dragon grated, “hath tasted thy King’s passing, and he saith, ‘It is done.’”

Nautzera stood before the golden-horned abomination. “Not while I draw breath, Skafra!” he cried. “Never!”

Laughter, like the wheezing of a thousand consumptive men. The Great Dragon reared his bull-chest above the sorcerer, revealing a necklace of steaming human heads.

“Thou art overthrown, sorcerer. Thy tribe hath perished, dashed like a potter’s vessel by our fury. The earth is sown with thy nation’s blood, and soon thine enemies will compass thee with bent bow and whetted bronze. Wilt thou not repent thy folly? Wilt thou not abase thyself before our Lord?”

“As do you, mighty Skafra? As the exalted Tyrant of Cloud and Mountain abases himself?”

Membranes flickered across the dragon’s quicksilver eyes. A blink. “I am not a God.”

Nautzera smiled grimly. Seswatha said, “Neither is your lord.”

Great stamping limbs and the gnashing of iron teeth. A cry from furnace lungs, as deep as an ocean’s moan and as piercing as an infant’s shriek.

Uncowed by the dragon’s thrashing bulk, Nautzera suddenly turned to Achamian, his face bewildered.

“Who are you?”

“One who shares your dreams …”

For a moment they were like two men drowning, two souls kicking for sharp air … Then darkness. The silent nowhere that housed men’s souls.

26 Comments »

  1. Well, Theo, all due respect: You got a lot right in this review, but you basically missed the mark. Your focus on the brutality (sexual and otherwise) says more about your own proclivities and moral makeup than it does about the author. He’s obviously written scenes that have disgusted and appalled you. And you condemn him for that? You make these books sound like “torture porn” where readers revel in seeing women and children (and men) get horribly abused and mutilated. I think you’re missing the entire point of all the abominations in Bakker’s work: It’s the nasty side of humanity that he’s showing. He’s not uplifting these horrible acts (most of them done in the name of ORGANIZED RELIGION) to exploit them, he’s showing them to MAKE HIS WORLD REAL. To make Earwa as “human” as our own Earth–including all its terror and darkness as well as its grandeur and wonder.

    Your statement about Bakker’s characters being badly drawn is also completely off the mark, if I may beg your indulgence. These characters are imminently believable because they are imminently HUMAN. Bakker doesn’t use cardboard archetypes of heroes, villains, and victims. His characters are 3-dimensional people with their own inner conflicts, tormented pasts, and terrible duties. Yes, the main character Khellus is a bit of chameleon. But as the trilogy continues the reader begins to realize that Khellus is an entirely ruthless being who is manipulating the entirely of mankind in order to save it from the coming Second Apocalypse. His massive following does no less crimes than any other organized religion, but for him it is all means to an ultimate end. The reader has to ask himself “Is Khellus right?” And he’s free to decide “No, Khellus is a manipulative sociopath.”

    There’s also Drusas Achamian, who you obviously completely missed as the moral heart of the story–he’s the only one who sees through the illusion of Khellus’ godliness, and he is tormented nearly to the point of utter destruction. This young “godling” even steals the woman he loves! He is shattered completely, and the reader feels deeply for him. Well, I think most readers do, anyway.

    Then there’s Cnaiur, the barbarian plunged into civilization, brought face-to-face with the hypocrisy and insanity of “civilized behavior”–another character readers really identify with.

    Finally, your complaint of story problems: This is an epic tale. It will not be finished until after he SECOND trilogy. Although the first trilogy does come to a nice “resting place” the second one opens twenty years later. Regardless of this, I found the PRINCE OF NOTHING trilogy to be full of fascinating characters (none of whom are perfect–ALL OF WHOM ARE FLAWED), brilliant sorcery and philosophical context, awesome world-building, and unlike most Epic Fantasy, the dirt, grit, blood, and savagery is not glossed over but handled with as much realism as any historical novel. Perhaps more.

    Once again, all due respect to your review, but I just had to offer my dissenting views on some of your major points.

    PRINCE OF NOTHING is a bold and important new fantasy institution. Not for everybody? Probably not, because most really good art does offend some people or just doesn’t suite their taste. To each his own. I’ll take Bakker over the Tolkien clones anyday.

    Comment by John R. Fultz - August 7, 2011 6:18 pm

  2. No, John, you’re wrong. Bakker’s proud and avowed amorality and his declared fascination with blood and titties says absolutely nothing about me. That’s a silly and predictable response. What it said was a great deal about the writer and I was totally unsurprised with his juvenile attempts to generate an emotional reaction through shock and torture porn. Oh nos, the scary demon thing raped the wife, then the little boy and killed him right in front of his Daddy! Far from being appalled at this transgressive art, I was cracking up; I kept thinking of Oderus Urungus.

    Seriously, I think there was less torture and less porn in Saladin’s Spy. And, more actual history, come to think of it.

    You see, unlike most readers, I read his books with a very clear view of his perspective because I engaged in a reasonably detailed discourse with him following the Leo Grin-inspired debate over the devolution of fantasy. Which is why I am confident in saying that Drusus Achamian is not the moral heart of the story because there is no moral heart. Bakker doesn’t have the capacity for it; he is the Mr. Magoo of morality. But yes, Drusus is the one character who isn’t a complete cardboard cutout, I will give you that much.

    As for the excuse of “realism”, it is a laughable concept that is actually less convincing than when it is used to defend middle-class rappers talking about their hard lives in the hood and police TV shows where police are firing their weapons in every episode. Making the world REAL means the entire emotional spectrum, and there is nothing of love, beauty, honor, or truth in Earwa. The problem isn’t that there is the dirt, grit, blood, and savagery, the problem is that there simply isn’t anything else.

    Now, you may like A Prince of Nothing and that’s perfectly fine. I happen to think it had some very good aspects as well as some fatal flaws. But I find it neither bold nor important; certainly far less bold and far less important than GWAR, who did essentially the same thing sooner, louder, and better.

    Comment by Theo - August 7, 2011 8:02 pm

  3. The omission Drusas Achamian makes me wonder how much attention Theo was paying when he read this series. Based on some previous post, it would seem to me he probably intended to dislike these books going into them.

    Comment by Baldanders - August 7, 2011 8:48 pm

  4. First, you didn’t spell Drusus correctly, so it is readily apparent that I paid more attention than you did. I didn’t find Drusus to be particularly interesting, he is a very passive character, except when he is behaving stupidly in order to further the plot along. His refusal to heed Esmenet’s pleas because he just had to check out a book at the library was plot-driven characterization at its worst.

    Second, I don’t harbor any intentions when I read a book regardless of who has written it. As the first nationally syndicated game reviewer, I was known for the integrity of my reviews and was the only game designer also permitted to write game reviews by Computer Gaming World.

    Third, if you bother to read the reviews of The Prince of Nothing series on Amazon, you will see many of the very points I have made being raised independently by other readers.

    For example: “R. Scott Bakker unfortunately substantially relies on numerous sex scenes to enliven his Prince of Nothing trilogy. This reliance fails abysmally. He had an interesting concept for a fantasy. If he could develop character, write dialogue, and had relied more on his imagination, he might have succeeded. Despite the appearance of many nominal characters, his books actually contain only one character, The Anguisher. All of his major characters are variants of The Anguisher, with the exception of Kellhus, the protagonist, who has no character. None of his characters develop. They either continue to anguish,or they die. The ones that live suffer through variants of the same scene time after time, and the reader has to suffer through their repetitous anguish.”

    Fourth, I don’t dislike the series. I gave it 6/10, which is pretty similar to the 4/3.5/3.5 Amazon average for the three books, especially considering that Amazon ratings are known to be on the generous side.

    Comment by Theo - August 7, 2011 9:10 pm

  5. It’s Drusas. Check your copy again.

    Comment by Baldanders - August 7, 2011 9:40 pm

  6. Theo: First, 6 out 10 is 60%. In academic terms, that’s a failing “F.” (Take it from a teacher.) Therefore, the end result of your review is that PRINCE OF NOTHING is a failure.

    Secondly, your contention that “there is nothing of love, beauty, honor, or truth in Earwa” is ludicrous and patently untrue. There is Achamian’s deep love of Esmenet, and her deep love for him. (Nevermind that ultimately their love is shattered–it does exist, springing up where society says it must not–between a distinguished Schoolman/Spy and a “whore.”) Later (in the second trilogy) there is love between Esmenet’s estranged daughter Mimaria and her fatherly substitute Achamian.

    There is beauty in the rugged land itself, the super-detailed descriptions of settings and scenes, the unique way of presenting sorcery and particularly sorcerous combat and the Gnosis. There is beauty in Cnaiur’s savage earth-worship and in Bakker’s evocation of nature scenes. There IS honor…but it is a rare and precious thing, and most often it is used an excuse to do terrible things–or a requirement to do them. We’re dealing with the equivalent of ancient times here, with all the attendant brutality and honor-based tragedies.

    Lastly, to say there is no truth in Earwa (i.e. in this book) really shows a lack of attention to detail. I submit a thesis that I know you will not agree with, Theo: That the TRUTH this book delivers about humanity is unsettling, uncomfortable, and downright nasty. Your personal reaction to that (I don’t care how many other reviewers shared that reaction–there are just as many who do not) says something about YOU. It says “Theo doesn’t like this kind of thing. He doesn’t see the merit in it.” When you write a review of ANYTHING you are basically exposing your own prejudices, tastes, and preferences. THAT’S WHAT REVIEWERS DO. They give THEIR OPINION on works of art.

    I’m going to chalk this one up to: You don’t get it man. Or if you do get it, you don’t care for it.

    And that’s fine. No need to sh*t on Bakker’s parade. Just don’t read his work if you find it so appalling.

    Last of all, thanks for being open to discussing my criticism of your review. It’s in no way a personal attack–just a defense of something brilliant and powerful that deserves far more than the short shrift you’ve given it. Thanks…

    Comment by John R. Fultz - August 7, 2011 10:30 pm

  7. Oh, one more thing: George R. R. Martin is getting the same kinds of accusations about all the sexual content of GAME OF THRONES (that is, now that it’s been translated to television).

    Why do writers put sex into their stories? Because SEX IS A PART OF LIFE. An extremely important part. And stories–even fantasies–are about LIFE. If you leave sex out of the equation, you’re cheating your audience. That said, some writers are more graphic and hard-hitting than others. Reader beware.

    Comment by John R. Fultz - August 7, 2011 10:32 pm

  8. OK, some grading systems consider a 60% to be a D-. Sorry for the confusion…

    Comment by John R. Fultz - August 7, 2011 10:42 pm

  9. I’m torn because part of me really likes (well is at least drawn into them) these books. I want to know how things come together at the end. I want to know the outcome of the Great Ordeal and the Second Apocalypse. I’m definitely intrigued by his constant Tolkien referencing (sranc=orcs, etc.) I want to know how things go down.

    On the other hand, a second part of me knows that Theo’s pretty close to being right on the money. For all the claims to these books be more representative of “real life”, I just don’t buy into that.

    There is a deep amorality and sadism to much of these books that just keeps getting added to with no apparent reason beyond it’s “transgressive” or “edgy”, both descriptions that we’d should all agree are well past their sell by dates. Even the real world is rarely as grotesquely evil so consistently and so thoroughly as depicted by Bakker.

    I admit, I believe life, the world, etc. have meaning. Bakker seems to pretty clearly believe it does not. It’s an important divide between him and me, writer and reader. Still, I’ll go back to the next book to see what he does.

    Comment by the wasp - August 8, 2011 2:53 am

  10. John, again, I have no problem with you enjoying Bakker’s work. Nor do I have any problem with your spirited critique of my review; I actually appreciate it and wish there were more of these forthright discussions of literature in the genre. The Prince of Nothing absolutely does have its strong points. But still, I think your primary argument in defense of what is little more than an amoral epic of torture porn, in which the characters have all the moral and emotional depth of a piece of paper, has been outdated since the 1960s. You might as effectively just called me a “square” who doesn’t “dig”. Even if that were true, it doesn’t change the validity of the various points I have raised.

    To take one example, you correctly declare that sex is a part of life. But then, does the sex in Bakker’s world realistically reflect sex in ours? Not at all. In his world, husbands have wives so that he can try to manipulate the reader by having the wife raped and killed in front of the husband; I haven’t actually counted, but I suspect there is more ink devoted to incestuous mother-son sex than conventional marital sex.

    Indeed, there is more demonic “black seed” being spilled than there are women being impregnated by doing the only thing that can make them pregnant. No one ever gets an itching, burning sensation no matter how many prostitutes they penetrate. So, there is absolutely nothing realistic about Bakker’s obsessive porn; it is more fantastic than Saladin’s spy girl having thunderous orgasms while being raped for the third time. Bakker is doing nothing new in this particular regard, his most transgressive achievement is to have written a larger, more fantastic version of a 1970s men’s novel. Perhaps Andrew Offutt should consider revisiting Crusader and turning it into an epic.

    But instead of admitting the obvious, your response has been to leap to the false conclusion that anyone who finds the patently absurd to be ridiculous – as many readers have – must be a sexually repressed prude unlike two crazy swinging guys like you and Bakker. But the transgressive superiority of the controversial artist wasn’t convincing back when Byron was striking the pose and taken to extremes it simply becomes self-parody.

    Now, to be fair, I don’t think Bakker’s work reaches that point. The books are not dreadful, (and having been on three SFWA juries, I know a dreadful book when I read one), they merely have some glaring weaknesses. This isn’t a classroom, I’m not the teacher, and 6/10 is not a failing grade, it means that the work is slightly better than average. The fact that they has strong strengths and strong weaknesses actually makes the books more interesting than a work that is simply mediocre all around.

    Finally, I note that any novel that affects to make explicit philosophical points not only merits being aesthetically judged from various philosophical perspectives, it should be so judged. My perspective is no less valid than Bakker’s, and based on the Amazon comments, I suspect mine is far more similar to that of the average genre reader for whom these reviews are intended.

    Comment by Theo - August 8, 2011 5:07 am

  11. […] received a ping-back for a Black Gate review of The Prince of Nothing by none other than Theo, that ultra-conservative blogger I debated on the […]

    Pingback by In Contempt of Contemplation « Three Pound Brain - August 8, 2011 10:11 am

  12. “Slightly better than average?”

    “Torture porn?”

    Let’s just agree to disagree here. Bigtime.

    That’s the thing about works of genius–as many people hate them as love them.

    I don’t read “torture porn”, nor do I read “slightly better than average” fantasies. But I’m not going to sweat trying to convince you how utterly wrong you are.

    We disagree. Wholeheartedly. Best wishes.

    –End transmission–

    Comment by John R. Fultz - August 8, 2011 5:55 pm

  13. Smoke is yanked? You grab it between your fingers like a hank of hair and pull it from its scalp or skin — or reins yanked against a horse’s bit?

    A portcullis ‘clacks’ when the iron grating hung over the gateway of a fortified place and is lowered between grooves to prevent passage?

    Comment by C - Foxessa - August 8, 2011 7:51 pm

  14. “I don’t read “torture porn”, nor do I read “slightly better than average” fantasies. But I’m not going to sweat trying to convince you how utterly wrong you are.”

    That’s the thing. I do. Or rather, I have. Perhaps if you had too, you would be able to recognize that aspect of it for what it is. Hell, maybe you’ll even enjoy Saladin’s Spy, plenty of people seem to like Offutt’s work.

    But we can certainly agree to disagree. Bakker can serve as your notion of literary genius, I’ll stick with Eco and Maupassant.

    Comment by Theo - August 8, 2011 8:13 pm

  15. Theo: Stop with the passive-aggressive attacks. You just accused me of not being able to distinguish good fantasy from bad fantasy. I don’t appreciate that.

    I don’t read “slightly better than average” fantasies because I can identify them and choose not to waste my time. An author has to impress me before I’ll continue reading his novel or story or what-have-you. I’m not going to go down the list of what I consider “top fantasies” because, frankly, I don’t expect that you are open to any ideas beyond the ones you’ve already concocted in your head.

    Instead of saying any of the nasty things flowing through my head right now, I’m just gonna say “Peace, Brother.”

    Now please stop talking shit about me.

    Comment by John R. Fultz - August 8, 2011 9:31 pm

  16. “You just accused me of not being able to distinguish good fantasy from bad fantasy.”

    No, he didn’t; don’t be so defensive. Theo was trying to point out that you’re trying not to acknowledge it’s “torture porn” even though it is. I don’t understand how having numerous sex scenes, as well as being reminded in great detail of past sexual occurrences does not count as porn, without going into the “torture” part.

    Furthermore, I’m not convinced of your examples regarding “love, honor, truth”, etc. In a realistic approach those aspect would stand on their own, whether tall or low, yet they ultimately only serve to feed the blood, grit, and violence of the books.

    Comment by Jake - August 8, 2011 11:00 pm

  17. Jake, you must not know what “porn” is.

    Simply because a novel has “numerous sex scenes, as well a being reminded in great detail of past sexual occurrences” DOES NOT MEAN THE NOVEL IS A WORK OF PORNOGRAPHY.

    And I will say the same thing to YOU that I said to Theo: PRINCE OF NOTHING is not “torture porn.” The whole concept is disgusting and you should both be ashamed for categorizing a professional fantasy author’s work as such.

    Post all the silly responses you want to this. I’m done with the conversation.

    And you’re still wrong.

    Comment by John R. Fultz - August 8, 2011 11:25 pm

  18. I’m guessing those last two were the post scripts to “–End transmission–”?

    Interesting review.

    Comment by Gabriel Rizk - August 9, 2011 4:37 am

  19. “That’s the thing about works of genius–as many people hate them as love them.”

    …But his review seemed kind of mixed to me. Hardly love/hate?

    Comment by andy - August 9, 2011 10:25 am

  20. ““You just accused me of not being able to distinguish good fantasy from bad fantasy.”

    No, he didn’t; don’t be so defensive. Theo was trying to point out that you’re trying not to acknowledge it’s “torture porn” even though it is. I don’t understand how having numerous sex scenes, as well as being reminded in great detail of past sexual occurrences does not count as porn, without going into the “torture” part.”

    Yeah, actually he did. Theo accused him of having poor taste in literature. He did this by simply proposing John would likely appreciate ‘Saladin’s Spy’ after writing about how horrible the book was (again, porn being the superlative word here), supporting this claim with the statement, “one of those strange 70’s porn novels with a thin veneer of historical fiction” as if this were a commonly held opinion, which it might very well be. Theo then cited his own superior appreciation of literature by name dropping two authors who are established, canonized icons of quality writing and story telling. That is about as passive aggressive as it gets.

    With regards to the review, again, beyond the moments of minor passive aggressive attack, Theo maintains a remarkably level head compared to some of the reviews for The Prince of Nothing I’ve read. I may not agree with him (in fact I do not agree with him at all) but his position was well established, and he remained quite articulate and rather professional.

    I do not agree that there can be one reading of anything. That is my ONLY real contention with Theo’s, and most reviewers for that matter, point of view. Once the book has left the author’s hands and is in print, there are as many viable opinions about the writing as there are people who’ve read it. From what source of authority can we say any of them are wrong? Bakker’s own view of his work, I feel, carries no more weight than Theo’s, than mine, than any one else’s.

    A book does not actively do anything to a reader. A reader responds to a book. A Holocaust survivor will have a much different take of Wiesel’s ‘Night’ than a high school kid in Vancouver in 2011. This is just the way it is, however hard anyone might try to say otherwise.

    Now it’s my turn to be pretentious and name drop. If Bakker constitute’s porn, what category do we put Roth, Huxley, Sterne, and Ovid, to name a few, in?

    Comment by A. Moore - August 9, 2011 8:06 pm

  21. “Yeah, actually he did. Theo accused him of having poor taste in literature.”

    Again, he didn’t. Don’t read what is not there.

    “He did this by simply proposing John would likely appreciate ‘Saladin’s Spy’ after writing about how horrible the book was (again, porn being the superlative word here), supporting this claim with the statement, “one of those strange 70’s porn novels with a thin veneer of historical fiction” as if this were a commonly held opinion, which it might very well be.”

    This tells me you didn’t read either Theo’s post and his subsequent comments. According to him, he found the book average but a good read; never did he wrote or implied that the books were horrible (he explicitly said he didn’t disliked the books). He also mentioned that it reminded him of a previous book by another author, and again, never mentioned that either that book was horrible as well.

    “Theo then cited his own superior appreciation of literature by name dropping two authors who are established, canonized icons of quality writing and story telling. That is about as passive aggressive as it gets.”

    John was the one who took “porn” as an insult to the book, rather than Theo’s intention of being a description of an important aspect of the books. John was also the one who asserted that the books were “a bold and important new fantasy institution”, an idea that he kept implying throughout his comments; if anyone is “citing his own superior appreciation of literature”, it’s John.

    Comment by Jake - August 10, 2011 12:32 am

  22. No, Jake, I did read the posts. You didn’t read mine very carefully though. Theo wrote “I started reading it, but around page 30, when the slave girl sent by Saladin to spy on the Crusaders was in full throat enjoying her third rape at the hands of her captors, I suddenly realized that the book was not a historical novel but rather one of those strange 70’s porn novels with a thin veneer of historical fiction”.

    After this, he references the book again with “Seriously, I think there was less torture and less porn in Saladin’s Spy. And, more actual history, come to think of it” and “it is more fantastic than Saladin’s spy girl having thunderous orgasms while being raped for the third time”.

    The final time Theo writes in reference to “Saladin’s Spy”, he writes “Hell, maybe you’ll even enjoy Saladin’s Spy, plenty of people seem to like Offutt’s work.”

    Now, perhaps I’m assuming here, but the first quote suggests to me that Theo didn’t finish the book, or at least did not particularly enjoy it. I could be making an ass out of you and me, but what are we without our assumptions? The fugue of the quotes, however, do paint a picture I feel of reasonable distaste. I don’t think you can make a case that Theo thought the Crusader series was an “average but a good read”.

    I’m passing no judgement on taste here, by the way, I’m simply pointing out how I received the writing.

    You, Jake, seem to think, for the most part, I’m writing about John and Theo’s disagreement on the merits of The Prince of Nothing. Rather misses my point. Disagreement is the point of literature, it’s what makes it interesting, it’s why love it. Theo’s remark, that I parsed in my previous post, did not relate to the merits or demerits of the work at hand. It related to John’s taste in literature. It was not a flattering remark. Simply calling the remark “accurate” or “true” or “correct” does not make it less of an insult. Perhaps it wasn’t meant as such, but it comes across as such. And to be blunt, how often have you heard “porn” used in a complimentary and effervescent manner.

    porn   [pawrn] Show IPA Informal.
    noun
    1. pornography.

    por·nog·ra·phy   [pawr-nog-ruh-fee] Show IPA
    noun
    obscene writings, drawings, photographs, or the like, especially those having little or no artistic merit.

    Perhaps your dictionary has a different definition? Call me old fashioned, but I don’t really see how you can take the word porn as anything but an aspersion.

    As for their debate, Theo even writes “Now, you may like A Prince of Nothing and that’s perfectly fine… John, again, I have no problem with you enjoying Bakker’s work. Nor do I have any problem with your spirited critique of my review; I actually appreciate it and wish there were more of these forthright discussions of literature in the genre.” Which carries the sentiment I appreciate.

    I personally don’t feel the need to put in my two bits and the wherefore on why I feel The Prince of Nothing is a laudable work. There are plenty of others to do that.

    I do feel I have to point out, however, that declaring that a work functions within fixed bounds, possesses absolutes of potential and limited possible permutation of experience is an injustice to the literary experience. John’s and Theo’s back and forth was enjoyable to read, apart from both of them dropping into passive aggressive insults from time to time and puffing out their own credentials. Admittedly, it’s all part of the rhetoric of debate, but it’s a part I don’t care for.

    I will say, though, Jake, because I’m a hypocrite and can’t follow my own moral standards, you misread my post, the point of my post, and latched onto the petty part. I was not talking about Theo’s take on Bakker’s work, or Theo’s take on John’s take of Bakker’s work, and yes, as I’ve pointed out with the quotations and definitions above, Theo was not all that complimentary of “Saladin’s Spy”. It only follows that most comparisons will carry a negative connotation.

    I am reading what is there. You are also reading what is there, and we are both obviously being moved by our own biases. I’d rather chat about the process of reviewing, or the literary experience, because, to be frank, going back and forth about pointless insults is irritating.

    So, “where do we begin?”

    Comment by A. Moore - August 10, 2011 3:42 am

  23. I think it will become obvious that if we consult il Dottore Grande, we shall see that the aspects of The Prince of Nothing to which I referred are indeed pornographic.

    “Pornographic movies are full of people who climb into cars and drive for miles and miles, couples who waste incredible amounts of time signing in at hotel desks, gentlemen who spend many minutes in elevators before reaching their rooms, girls who sip various drinks and who fiddle interminably with laces and blouses before confessing to each other that they prefer Sappho to Don Juan. To put it simply, crudely, in porn movies, before you can see a healthy screw you have to put up with a documentary that could be sponsored by the Traffic Bureau.

    There are obvious reasons. A movie in which Gilbert did nothing but rape Gilbertina, front, back, and sideways, would be intolerable. Physically, for the actors, and economically, for the producer. And it would also be, psychologically, intolerable for the spectator: for the transgression to work, it must be played out against a background of normality. To depict normality is one of the most difficult things for any artist – whereas portraying deviation, crime, rape, torture, is very easy.

    Therefore the pornographic movie must present normality – essential if the transgression is to have interest – in the way that every spectator conceives it. Therefore, if Gilbert has to take the bus and go from A to B, we will see Gilbert taking the bus and then the bus proceeding from A to B.

    This often irritates the spectators, because they think they would like the unspeakable scenes to be continuous. But this is an illusion on their part. They couldn’t bear a full hour and a half of unspeakable scenes. So the passages of the wasted time are essential.

    I repeat. Go into a movie theater. If, to go from A to B, the characters take longer than you would like, then the film you are seeing is pornographic.
    – Umberto Eco, “How to Recognize a Porn Movie”

    Is there anyone who felt the journey to Shimeh was too short? If not, the matter is settled. Note that Eco points out how “portraying deviation, crime, rape, torture, is very easy”. Reliance upon them in a literary work is not evidence of a work’s brilliance or greatness or realism, but rather evidence of the author’s incapacity, laziness, deviancy, or limited moral palette. Anyone who followed Bakker’s discourse on uncertainty and amorality will naturally be aware that it is the latter which is responsible for his frequent resort to pornographic elements in The Prince of Nothing.

    Comment by Theo - August 10, 2011 4:37 am

  24. “Now, perhaps I’m assuming here”

    No, you are reading what you want to see from post and the comments. Again, don’t read what is not read. The only thing that you can infer from Theo’s comment on Saladin’s Spy is that Theo expected to read a historical novel but then found out that it was a men’s erotic novel. Never did he said he stopped reading at page 30 or that he found it to be horrible (or viceversa, for that matter). In fact, given his post you can actually guess that he did finished it and thought that it was an ok read.

    “Simply calling the remark “accurate” or “true” or “correct” does not make it less of an insult.”

    Porn is not a made-up slang word from 50 years ago. Since we’re talking about a trilogy of books, then that’s a problem of the one who took it as an insult, specially since it turned out to be true (you can verify it with webster.com or dictionary.com; or Umberto Eco, as Theo just showed it).

    “I was not talking about Theo’s take on Bakker’s work, or Theo’s take on John’s take of Bakker’s work, and yes, as I’ve pointed out with the quotations and definitions above, Theo was not all that complimentary of “Saladin’s Spy”.”

    Then what was the point of your comments? We’re not here to discuss whatever we feel like it, but to focus on the main post.

    Comment by Jake - August 10, 2011 3:10 pm

  25. This is absolutely fascinating. What we have here is a perfect example of people getting different things from the text based on their own life experiences and what concerns them the most, picking out passages or ideas that support their argument and interpreting them so they fit the mould. (There is a name for this, but it escapes me. English majors use it to bullshit their way through college. I know. I am one.) For Theo it seems to be the overabundance of rape and torture and the lack of believable characters that detract from the series as a whole, which has more that a few good things going for it (see the review above). For him, it seems, the very presence of those things in a book diminish the overall quality of the work. I apologize if I oversimplify things.

    The thing is, there is no wrong way to interpret most things. Sure, someone’s interpretation may seem skewed or off the mark to you but that doesn’t necessarily make it invalid.

    For instance, Eco’s piece on how to spot a porno (which, if you’ll allow a piece of constructive criticism, should have been presented in the body of your original essay to add grounding to your point of view). I could say that I take from that definition that anything that is gratuitous is pornography–sex, flashy guitar solos, overlong descriptions of food or clothing, Michael Bay movies, the excessive amount of CDs that adorn my wall and keep multiplying. Now, I can already hear the cries of, “Oh, you don’t understand blah-blah-blah” accompanied by posturing ad nauseum. And from your point of view, I probably don’t. That’s just as well. The important thing is that, as I said earlier, everyone takes something different away from books, music, movies, etc.

    Comment by Light in the Black - August 10, 2011 6:18 pm

  26. “I repeat. Go into a movie theater. If, to go from A to B, the characters take longer than you would like, then the film you are seeing is pornographic.”
    – Umberto Eco, “How to Recognize a Porn Movie””

    The movie Titanic. It sure took a hell of a time to get that boat to the bottom of the Atlantic. And the march to Mordor? 10 hours of screen time! More if you watch the Director’s Cut!

    And in no porno that I have seen in the last 10 years have I observed the characters “confessing to each other that they prefer Sappho to Don Juan”. They love all. In that way, they are our best role models.

    Comment by ptolpa - August 12, 2011 6:01 am


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