First, a review of Larry Correia’s Hugo-nominated WARBOUND from an honest critic:
Larry Correia can spin one hell of a yarn! He writes a cool
alternate-history world with fantastic settings, from a superhero prison
to a walled-off Berlin filled with zombies. His pacing is good and his
action scenes are riveting. I kept turning pages when I knew I really
should be doing something else, which a mark of a good book. He does
dead-pan humor extremely well, I laughed out loud several times. It’s
exactly over-the-top enough to be a great ride, and very entertaining.
When he sticks to doing what he does well he writes great fiction!
The book does have two major failings.
First, it falls into the Superman trap that many superhero stories
stumble into. The primary actor in any scene has exactly the right
amount of power to just barely overcome their obstacles. It doesn’t
matter what the power-level of the threat is. If it’s a stab to the
chest, they’ll barely survive. If it’s an army of goons they’ll suddenly
be impervious to bullets and wade through them to get to the boss, and
then barely survive the city-block-exploding powers of the boss. And
they always have just the powers they need to make it through, which
leads to things like Superman’s Brick-Laying Vision and that starts to take the tension out of things when you catch on.
I can’t disagree with that in the slightest from a plausibility perspective, although the fact that so many very successful books repeatedly utilize the “it was the nearest-run thing you ever saw” (cough, Jim Butcher, cough) tends to indicate that plausibility is wildly overrated in this regard. I try very hard to keep my action and military sequences entirely coherent and plausible, (a certain tunnel-digging sequence notwithstanding) and my books are considerably less successful in terms of unit sales than those of Messrs. Correia and Butcher. That may not be the only reason, of course, but it does tend to indicate that most readers not only don’t mind, but actually prefer what the critic describes as “the Superman trap”.
However, I think the critic goes a little off the rails in his response to Larry’s reaction to his initial review:
There were people who didn’t
feel the need to impose their will on the women they cared for back
then, even if they weren’t as common as they are now. I would prefer for
my heroes to be of that type, similar to how I would prefer for the
heroes I read in colonial-era fiction to not be slave owners and view it
Larry (I gather) views this sort of attitude as something that can be
admired. He’s not a bad person or anything, but I disagree with him on
that. He views it as protecting the ones you love. I don’t consider
menacing the people my daughter loves to be protecting. (full disclosure
– I don’t actually have a daughter) And likewise, I don’t consider it
protecting someone to take away their choices (which is what was done to
Hammer when she was excluded without being given the choice to help
save mankind). I can see both of these things as character flaws that
make up a multi-faceted character. Especially in Sullivan’s case, given
his recent loss of Delila. But in that case those actions would be
portrayed as flawed actions, whereas in Warbound they seemed to be
presented as positive things.
This is the same reason I found the joy in violence distasteful. I
love violence in my fiction. 🙂 I enjoyed the violence in Warbound.
Morgan’s Altered Carbon is one of my favorite books, in part because Kovacs is such a stone-cold badass throughout. Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold is
brutal and bloody and I actually bought a physical copy, it was that
awesome. However my heroes never enjoy the violence they inflict. They
are good at it, and they use it as a tool to get what they want, but
there is never joy in it. Desperation maybe, or rage, or even just cold
calculation. I don’t know if that makes me a hypocrite. Maybe that joy
really is somewhere deep inside, the vicious pride of triumphing over
one’s enemies, of seeing them driven before you, etc. Maybe it’s only lip-service we pay to civility by pretending it doesn’t excite us on a primal level. But dammit, these are heroes. They are the idealized man, that we want to model ourselves after, and our ideals really shouldn’t act like they enjoy violence, even if they secretly do.
I find this response somewhat hypocritical. To laud Abercrombie and condemn Correia for joy taken in violence is like criticizing George W. Bush for his budget deficits and then giving Obama a pass. Abercrombie’s anti-heroes are twisted and sick individuals; some are downright sadists. Correia’s heroes, on the other hand, are normal human beings with superhuman abilities who enjoy their enhanced capabilities. To find one “awesome” and the other “distasteful” is incoherent at best.
I also find the take on enjoying violence to be even more ignorant than the critic confessed he happened to be concerning FDR’s historical behavior. The only people who don’t find joy in violence are those who have never committed it or those who have suffered too much from it. The adrenaline rush that one feels when one feels a bone crack beneath one’s fist, sees a head snapping back, or stands over a physically defeated opponent is second only to a sexual rush for most men. It is one of the greatest pleasures in life; there is a reason that so many killers find the temptation to kill almost irresistible despite the risks and penalties involved and why brawlers seek out stupid and risky fights with strangers in bars. The pleasure that is to be found in violence is the very reason that civilization is dependent upon its members learning to restrain man’s natural instinct to pursue that short-term pleasure.
The idealized man who doesn’t enjoy violence isn’t a man at all, he is a robot devoid of natural humanity. The idealized man is more akin to Larry’s heroes, who may take pleasure in violence, but are careful to ensure that the violence they commit is discriminate, justified, and in performed solely the interests of those they are sworn to defend. That justified violence most definitely includes menacing the potential threats to one’s family and loved ones. Indeed, that is one of the primary responsibilities of every father.
That being said, the critic has to be lauded for giving WARBOUND a fair shake and expressing his opinion honestly. One can disagree with an aspect or two of a review without thinking less of the reviewer. I hope more reviewers of the various Hugo-nominated works will follow his example.