In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Kirk and Spock discuss 20th-century American literature on a San Francisco public bus. The remembered names of 20th-century literature? Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann, two authors we would consider today the purveyors of crap.
What we think of today as great literature may not stand the test of time. Dave Eggers, for all of his magnificent talent (witness A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), may not be remembered in fifty or a hundred years. Robert Heinlein is considered by many to be the godfather of modern science fiction, but his work has aged badly and isn’t being discovered by new generations of readers. John Steinbeck, who was never thought of as being literary within his own lifetime, outsells his contemporaries Hemingway and Fitzgerald by a wide margin, two authors whose work does have literary artistic merit. Essentially, the work we think is important future generations may not, and the work that seems like gutter trash could be in the next edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature.
What does this have to do with anything?
I was writing a scene for Ring Around the Sky earlier today, and two characters are having a conversation about 20th-century fantasy novels. Lord of the Rings stands the test of time. So does Gormenghast. Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, particularly that absurdist masterpiece The Swords of Lankhmar. And Thieves’ World.
Why Thieves’ World?
I wanted to make a joke similar in style to the Kirk/Spock conversation mentioned above. I needed a work with a trashiness quotient on a scale similar to Susann and Robbins’ work. Thieves’ World seemed to fit that bill with that sense of joyous trashiness, but given that I’ve read most of the series (and have the newest anthology awaiting my reading attentions once Ring is finished) I feel somehow disloyal in giving it a gentle mocking.
Suggestions from the audience?
I promised in this space some time ago to discuss SCE and its characters. In particular, why Bart Faulwell, the resident linguist aboard the USS da Vinci is my favorite character among the crew.
It’s quite simple, really.
Bart is a professional student and a tourist.
Here’s some background on the character for those unfamiliar with Star Trek: SCE. Bart Faulwell is in his mid-fifties, enlisted in Starfleet out of a desire to see the universe and put his formidable linguistic talents to use.
I like that about Bart Faulwell. It makes him, well, normal. Starfleet is something of a second career.
Maybe it’s not the best reason to like a character, but it works.