World of UScast: Dystopian Present Ep 4: Appropriate Lettuce Distribution

  • Chris Cox 

Alice, Ross and Rachel flip that old Cake tune on its head and fervently claim this as the Year of the Goat–sheep can go to Hell! This episode’s discussion features a user’s guide to cash and prizes distribution during Chinese New Year, a ringing endorsement of Penny Dreadful and a bile-filled review of The Name of the Wind.

Also: Chow Yun-fat ages gracefully, but can we (pretty please) have some new Hong Kong cinema superstars? Dive on in!

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3 thoughts on “World of UScast: Dystopian Present Ep 4: Appropriate Lettuce Distribution”

  1. As a big fan of The Kingkiller Chronicle, I found Ross’s reasoning behind his dislike of The Name of the Wind interesting. Rothfuss was aiming to do a twist on the usual, tired old fantasy tropes like the farm boy who’s family are killed becoming a master of magic and everything, by kind of deconstructing the whole character of the hero in epic fantasy. But I can definitely see that since he’s using those tropes for the story, I can see how that can still weigh it down even so, even if the story is meant to be a counterpoint to the conventional epic fantasy story.

    You talked about how you thought that not enough happened in the book, and although I disagree obviously, after reading the first two books in the trilogy, I’m definitely unsure of how Rothfuss will manage to wrap it all up in the last book, and fit everything that’s meant to happen in the story into the last book in the trilogy, without it being super-long. Although as a big fan of those books I probably wouldn’t mind if it was super-long…

    Surely though if nothing else you can give The Name of the Wind credit for not being The Last King of the Dark Empire: Revenge of the Blood Knight РPart 2 of the Dark Empire Saga. If you get what mean (i.e not another clich̩, unoriginal epic fantasy story beholden to the tired tropes weighing down the genre).

    Anyway, out of interest, what brought Ross to Pakistan? Going through China, to Pakistan via Kyrgyzstan, sounds like something a journalist would do, which made me curious.

  2. Hey, hey; I have been gearing up for some pushback on my views of TNOTW (which, is likely the only Kingkiller Chronicle book I’ll ever read). I hear your argument–Rothfuss twisting the tropes, creating a meta/post-mod fantasy. And yes, I can concede that it certainly isn’t a Dragonsword of the Last Knight of the Lost Realm of the Elder Times tropefest. I have been pretty diligent in absorbing reviews and criticisms of Rothfuss, for as I mentioned most people whose tastes in genre fiction jibe with my own (yours included) really, REALLY like this series, which makes me thing I’m just not understanding something.

    And yet. I don’t think I’m not getting it, I think Rothfuss is getting credit for something he isn’t doing. I’m slowly building up to a more cogent, complete critique of TNOTW ( which I must, if I’m to continue being friends with most of the people with whom I hang), but the essence of my thesis follows. Forgive the length, and please do not read it as Comment Section Fisticuffs. We all like what we like, and I mean you no disrespect for liking Kingkiller. I’m simply trying to lay out, as carefully as I can, why this series doesn’t work for me. To whit:

    If Rothfuss is indeed attempting to invert/subvert the high fantasy genre through a deconstructed hero, he is either playing an extremely long con to do so, or he has himself been conned by the conventions of the genre into thinking he’s being meta, and is in fact actually a Slave to their Rhythms. The book could be a grand take-down of the genre, because the world and its characters are parodies of the form in nearly every turn: super-hot coy women, usually in distress, fey princely adversaries, tavern-drinkin’ bumpkins, wise wandering wizards, lightly sketched sun-god mythology and bandits on the road! All of this ‘standard’ D&D-ish set-up could indeed be a platform for re-examining the genre, and providing fresh insight into why we all love it so. However, in the course of hundreds and hundreds of pages, he says nothing of the sort! Yes, he’s constantly having his characters observe that “names are special” and chucking bits of anthropological analysis of mythmaking, but it is never consistent or believable. Moreover, Rothfuss never has his narrator, or any other character that demonstrates glimpses of meta-awareness, make choices that are any more unique or insightful than those of the dummies who take fairy-tales at face value. He offers not a single hint that he’s got something on his mind other than a playthrough of the bog-standard Avenging Orphan Quest.

    But perhaps that’s just his Long Con! Maybe Rothfuss is pulling us slowly, sneakily through a cookie-cutter fantasy world for two, or even three books, before he yanks the curtain back on the Grand Parody he’s created! But I think he is not–or rather, at best he thinks he is embarking on a Grand Deconstruction project, but is unaware that he is failing. My primary argument for this is (apologies, I’m aware that this is a a sensitive issue for most fans) that his writing simply isn’t good enough. All of his characters lurch from one leaden, stereotypical set of emotions and habits to another (usually contradictory) set without self-awareness–the hero Kvothe most of all. As he is the narrator, the reader has to put up with his bombast, his contradictory philosophies and immense self-satisfaction, all occasionally thinly cloaked in false humility. This not only makes identification with this disagreeable character impossible, it provides the no counter-point view to establish a critical perspective of what is ‘real’ in this world, and what it is that Rothfuss is ‘really’ saying.

    In other words, if Rothfuss is trying to be deconstructionist, this narrator MUST be an Unreliable Narrator–otherwise Kvothe’s arrogant, childish and disorganized worldview is the ‘correct’ worldview of the Kingkiller Chronicals. Rothfuss can’t have it both ways: Kvothe is either the real hero of this world, embodying its philosophies and morals, or he isn’t. If it’s the former, the reader is being asked to buy into the value system of an unpleasant, immature and self-centered autodidact, who is vague guided by revenge–an asshole. If it is the latter, he’s asking you to examine how it came to be that this asshole was built up by the world’s myth-dependent society into this tremendous hero.

    Rothfuss’ poor writing does not demonstrate that he is able to pull off the latter. Beyond the wooden dialogue and trope-tastic caricatures that inhabit his Middle Earth, his lengthy descriptions of minutiae (usually either involving his chemistry-inspired version of magic, which he does understand, or money, about which he simply has no clue; the economics of this book are shockingly naive) obscure and deaden the impact of any real forward momentum in the narrative. Even the central conceit of the series–that Kvothe is dictating this story in three days–is revealing in its artlessness. How could Kvothe’s ‘live’ narration be so detailed, with lengthy, direct quotes in multiple character voices and long descriptions of things that must have been common knowledge to anybody who would hear this tale (not the least the person he was dictating it to–Chronicler the Chronicler–who was himself possessed of most of the skills and knowledge that Kvothe felt necessary to explain from scratch)? More basically: how could he have physically said it in enough time?!? I listened to the audio book in addition to reading it. The first day of Kvothe’s tale-telling consists of roughly eighty audiobook chapters, which I generously underestimate to average 15 minutes apiece. This means at a minimum, Kvothe is speaking for over 20 hours of that first day!!!

    It is this demonstration of Rothfuss’ lack of basic narrative mechanical ability that seals it for me. He may indeed think he’s reinventing the genre, strewing deconstructionist rose petals before himself to convince us of the truth of his quest. However, in my opinion he is only able to use the genre’s most standard conventions, and as such is producing a work that ends up being exactly what he thinks he is trying to subvert.

    And yes, given that Kvothe is CONSTANTLY (and with rap-star-esque quantities of hyperbole and self-mythologizing) name-checking all the cool stuff he has done in the first book, hardly any of which has yet to be done by the second book (so I am told), and given that Rothfuss describes each and every step and breath Kvothe takes along the way, the third installment will indeed need to be a Long Assed Book.

    I’ll get back to you later on the travels through the ‘Stans. (suffice to say they were done in a pre-9/11 world, where more of this freebooting travel was possible). Thanks for listening.

    1. Yeah, it sounds like to you, the author or the story like you said has been conned by the conventions of the genre that it seeks to unravel, which is an understandable viewpoint. You’re right in that a lot of the legendary hero stuff that Kvothe is supposed to have done still is yet to be seen, and supposedly will be in the last book, which I also wonder about. As to the depth and nuance of the characters other than Kvothe, and the character of Kvothe himself, that’s something I’ll bear in mind the next time I re-read the books. I haven’t actually read them in a couple years I think, so maybe I’ll think differently of them the next time I read them.

      Do you know of any other fantasy books that aren’t the same old cliché, tropy stuff, though, that you would recommend? It always seems that when I look at the fantasy books section on Amazon that’s all it is; sagas, trilogies, fool’s this, liar’s that, the something king. A couple fantasy books I currently have on my to-read list are The Gormenghast trilogy and The Bite at the End of the Line.

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