Glenn's Junk Chest

An assortment of Glenn's writings, photography, gaming resources, flash movies, and other creative output.


Monday, February 14, 2005

Books: Elizabeth Moon

Oath of Swords
Over the years, I've read a number of books that are based in D&D-like universes. In general, I find these acceptable, but rarely exceptional, because of their grounding in a stilted role-playing universe. In recent years, for example, I've found a great deal of enjoyment in David Weber's War God's Own books, but I hardly consider them to be pinnacles of the fantasy genre. (The link is to the free online version of the entire first book, thanks to the always wonderful Baen Free Library.)

My favorites by a wide margin, however, are Elizabeth Moon's trilogy about a female paladin, called The Deed of Paksenarrion. Elizabeth Moon is an ex-Marine, having joined in 1968, and she brings a great sense of versimilitude to all of the routine of Paks's enlistment in a mercenary company, and the lifestyle of drill and training. That realism grounds the books, and sustains the reader as the more fantastic elements of the story begin to creep in, eventually encompassing so many of the aspects of D&D that one can almost envision the race and character class of each and every participant in the story. Somehow, though, she does this without ever slipping into what I've come to think of as "Dragonlance Mode", and the result is a fairly gripping set of books that don't shy away from some fairly harsh realities of war and still deliver a fairly epic storyline. (In a side-note, I'll say that If a D20 sourcebook is ever released, I'm definitely going to buy it.)

Recently, I've begun re-reading them, and it occured to me to wonder if Elizabeth Moon was in fact a gamer. I stopped by the Amazon page for the book, and found an interesting comment.
The Deed of Paksenarrion does, in fact, have its roots in roleplaying, but not in the usual sense. Rather than being written either as a sort of record of someone's favorite character in a game, or as a publicity/demonstration piece for some gaming system or mechanic, Paksenarrion was born (according to an email exchange I had with the author) from bad roleplaying: Elizabeth Moon, not gaming herself, heard some people playing "Paladins" (Holy warriors in the service of a god) and doing so very poorly. Her reaction was of course that "such a person wouldn't ACT like that"... and in thinking about what they WOULD act like, Paksenarrion was born.
The Deed of Paksenarrion
Now, as most people who game with me are aware, I'm a big fan of playing paladins in roleplaying games, and in fact, when I play a paladin nowadays I usually try to model his behaviour on that of Paksenarrion, so I thought this was pretty funny. In fact, I thought it was interesting enough that I wanted to confirm it as fact. (Mostly so I could post about it here.)

So I took an unusal step, and started looking for interviews and essays by Elizabeth Moon. The reason that this constitutes an unusal step for me is that I consider it dangerous. Because I'm a very liberal atheist, I often find it hard to enjoy something as much when I learn that the talent behind it has a very conservative or religious mindset. What I knew about Elizabeth Moon was what was written in her bio on the back of the book. i.e. she was both a Texan and an ex-Marine. Under the circumstances, I had some trepidation about finding out things about her that might sully my enjoyment of one of my favorite fantasy trilogies.

I tracked down her set of pages at ssf.net. I'm still not sure that Ms. Moon and I would see eye-to-eye across the political spectrum, but it turns out that I really didn't need to worry that I'd take an instant dislike to her.
If George Bush had really been willing to serve his country in time of danger, many other avenues of service were wide open in the Sixties....So why didn't he? Why didn't this proponent of patriotism and responsibility and accountability and so on just walk into a recruiting office and say "Send me to 'Nam--I'm willing?" What kind of patriotism--what kind of courage--wants the uniform but not the risk? If even women were willing to serve in the military and risk being sent to Vietnam, what kind of man would choose to pretend he was serving, while not actually serving?

I don't know why. I cannot think of any valid, honest, honorable reason why someone would claim to support the war, and then by his own actions ensure that he himself was not at risk--and by those actions put others at risk.

George W. Bush claims that questioning the validity of his service in the Texas Air National Guard insults the men and women who have served there and been in combat. This is a disgusting perversion of the truth. It is he and other draft dodgers, with the connivance of Texas government (including the governor who wouldn't release the unit to the military and the individuals who jumped Bush over the waiting list to get him in) who sullied the honor of the National Guard here in Texas, and in other states where a politically-motivated governor allowed this injustice to occur. It is he and the others like him who insult and dishonor those who served honorably before and after this shameful period, those who actually put their lives on the line. Because of him and men like him, others were drafted into the service and sent into combat in their place.
But while that made me happy, her point-by-point analysis of the President's record as Commander-in-chief, from her perspective as military authority, made me chuckle aloud. (Heck, check out her interesting commentary on global warming too.)

After you've read all that, try out the Deed of Paksenarrion if you've never read it. (The link is to the first 20 chapters, which are available free online as a sample.) I bet you won't be disappointed.

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