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Steven Karl Zoltan Brust

PostPosted: Sunday, 16 November 2008, 1:57 pm
by DavidTate
What do you make of Steven Brust, Eric? As with Bujold, I think this is an author whose skills have improved slowly over time, and who did his best work when turning his hand to something new.

He is most famous, of course, for the Vlad Taltos books. That series has undergone a profound transformation since its inception, rather like the Vorkosigan books of Bujold. The early Vlad is a smartass organized crime boss, a human in a society of taller, stronger, longer-lived aliens who view humans as an undesirable minority. He might have been cribbed from a Zelazny model. The books are smart and funny, but shallow. Over the course of many books, that early Vlad is (essentially) killed, and the later, wiser, more human Vlad has to live with that past. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and there are many features about the later books that annoy fans of the earlier ones. They have also started to get rather baroque in their (internal) politics, worldbuilding, cosmology, etc. A solid zero stars overall, I think.

There was a delightful spinoff from the series, though. The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years After are hilariously entertaining pastiches of Dumas's The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After. The invented author, Paarfi of Roundwood, is a delight all by himself, and the parody of the style of the romances of Dumas and Sabatini is spot-on. They manage to be both exciting as adventures and amusing as pastiches at the same time, which is quite a trick.

One famous passage may serve to illustrate:
"The Baroness," said Pel, "that is to say, Kathana, is, as you know, an artist. She had just completed an oil commissioned by Lord Rollondar e'Drien. The painting depicted, as I recall, a wounded dragon. She brought it to the Palace, to hang in the Dragon Wing."
"Well, and then?" said Khaavren.
"Well, it happened that the Lord Pepperfield was at the Palace, to visit the Warlord. He chanced to see it, and made comment."
"Ah!" said Khaavren. "He didn't like it?"
"He felt it was too melancholy to be a dragon, and not fierce enough. The Baroness, I'm told, wished to demonstrate that she knew quite as much about ferocity as did he, and removed his head with her broadsword in the course of demonstrating this."
"And it was well done, too," affirmed Tazendra. "I'd have done the same, only --"
"I don't paint."

(I'm afraid I didn't care as much for the remaining Khaavren Romances -- those patterned on The Count of Monte Cristo and The Vicomte de Bragelonne.)

Brust has also written a number of other works of SF&F, of which (alas) I am only familiar with the minor Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grill. Other works, such as Agyar, To Reign in Hell, and The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, have received some critical acclaim. He has also written a couple of well-received collaborations: The Gypsy with Megan Lindholm, and Freedom and Necessity, with Emma Bull. As I say, I know nothing firsthand of the quality (or lack thereof) of these works.

Re: Steven Karl Zoltan Brust

PostPosted: Thursday, 27 November 2008, 5:04 am
by owlcroft
My sole exposure to Brust has been Cowboy Feng's, which I found pleasant but not enduring--say, about zero stars (again, for others: that's on a -5 to +5 scale). It wasn't enough to make me want to bump him up ahead of anybody on the Other Candidates list. (Which, believe it or not, I am slowly whittling; so far, not much has made it to the main lists, but hope springs eternal, and all that).

My lady is more taken with Dumas than I, and I may get one or two of those you mention and try them on her for a reaction. . . .

Re: Steven Karl Zoltan Brust

PostPosted: Sunday, 30 November 2008, 2:29 am
by DavidTate
Hmm. I know this is a stereotypical response for this sort of discussion, but judging Brust by Cowboy Feng's is somewhat like judging Avram Davidson by Clash of the Star Kings. Brust is famous and popular almost entirely due to his Taltos series, and its spinoffs. All of his other works fall into the categories "early, minor" or "experimental, artistic". Jhereg, for example, is no longer my personal cup of tea, but it is nevertheless a fine example of the first-person smartass school of fantasy that Roger Zelazny also exemplified. Later Taltos books are considerably more complicated.

Perhaps the best way to say this is that, if you thought Cowboy Feng's was worth 0 stars, there's a good chance you would find some of Brust's other works to be well above that threshold. I won't try to predict which ones, though.

Re: Steven Karl Zoltan Brust

PostPosted: Sunday, 30 November 2008, 6:57 pm
by owlcroft
Well, I'll keep an open mind. But I hesitate to extend the "Candidates" list yet further.

Re: Steven Karl Zoltan Brust

PostPosted: Saturday, 26 September 2009, 9:34 pm
by Shrike
I have in fact read his other works, including Agyar, To Reign in Hell, The Sun, the Moon, and The Stars, The Gypsy, Freedom and Necessity, and Brokedown Palace. For anyone interested in his books, I've provided short opinions below.

Agyar: A mixture of horror and fantasy, to describe this book's plot in any detail might spoil some of it's content, which is not immediately apparant. It was fairly well done and interesting enough, but not a masterpiece.

To Reign in Hell: The work of Brust most heavily inspired by Zelazny. It has a foreword by Zelazny as I recall, and is very Zelazny-like. It reminded me heavily of Lords of Light and Creatures of Light and Darkness in it's mythological inspirations and aspirations.

The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars: Really weirdly artistic book, that I felt overall didn't succeed.

The Gypsy: Ultimately forgettable fantasy, unlike most of what I've read of his.

Freedom and Necessity: This is one of the most unique and interesting books he has ever written. It is very unusual, and only barely qualifies as fantasy at all. It is an epistolary novel set in ninteenth century England. I felt it really conveyed an interesting portrait of the times, while having an interesting plot. Characterization was somewhat weak, unfortunately, for many characters. Still, worth a read.

Brokedown Palace: Set in the same universe as his Taltos/Phoenix Guards books, this book shares nothing else with them. Another attempt at writing differently like The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars, but it ultimately didn't succeed.