I see that one of my favorite blog-memes is making the rounds again: the Five Question Interview, in which I answer five questions posed to me by the blogger on whose blog I saw the meme in play (in this case, Electronic Cerebrectomy), and then offer to ask any questions myself of anyone who wishes them! Hoo-ray! This game comes around about once a year or so -- I suppose that's how long it takes before it wends its way out of my little corner of Blogistan and then back again, but I'm always happy to see it return.
Anyhow, SamuraiFrog posed five questions to me, and here they are:
1. You’re a fantasy novelist. What kind of books did you read as a child and which ones stand out for you as influences?
My reading interests were often all over the map. My mother, as I've noted before, had a tendency to punish my mis-deeds by handing me a book and telling me that I'd watch no TV until I read said book. Even more deviously, though, she'd make sure that the book she gave me was the first book in some series or other. The first time this happened was Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three, the first volume in his Prydain Chronicles. I was nine years old at the time. This was my first exposure to epic fantasy with a map and everything. I've never recovered.
2. I’ve been enjoying your reviews on space opera novels. Is there another genre or subgenre you’re planning on giving a try?
I'll probably read the occasional hard-SF work, since that's the second type of SF I tend to like a lot. (Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy rocked my world pretty strongly.) Military SF tends to not be my cup of tea, although some of it I like (the Vorkosigan series by Bujold, for example). I've flirted with alternate history, but for me, a little of that goes a long way. Cyberpunk also never rang my bell all that much.
As for fantasy, multi-volume "fat" fantasy isn't a major obsession of mine these days, although there are some series that have caught my eye. I'm interested in reading earlier stuff now: Robert E. Howard, Lord Dunsany, and so on.
How about non-SF genres? I have to admit that I'm tempted to read some bodice-ripping romances. I'm always on the lookout for really compelling love stories; it's the romantic in me, I suppose. (Go ahead and suggest some.) I also want to read some Larry McMurtry Westerns, and I'm sure I'll get a hankering for some horror sooner or later. (I tend to read horror in spurts. Like blood!) Espionage novels aren't much of a love of mine anymore, although I tore through a number of them back in my late-high-school years. Non-genre fiction? I'll read some every so often, if I hear of a title that sounds especially interesting.
Reading some Jane Austen is high on my "to do" list. I'm currently reading Wuthering Heights, and re-reading Jane Eyre is also high on my list. I loved it when I read it in high school, but I haven't picked it up since.
3. We both have a love of film music. I’ve been somewhat disappointed by the majority of scores I’ve heard in the 21st century; what’s your take on the modern film score?
I always have a hard time making generalized statements about the state of any art right now, because I really do believe that those who inhabit a certain time are in no way best equipped to judge their own period's art. Today you can go to any film music message board or forum and find postings like "Wow, today's stuff has no flavor of its own, and it's crap compared to Goldsmith and the giants of yesteryear", but I'd be willing to bet that if you could go back in time to when, say, The Wind and the Lion was a new score or when Rosza's King of Kings had come out, you'd find more than a few film music fans of those times saying, "Meh". (This is generally why I generally scorn the notion that professional critics should be taken as the best arbiters of quality. Read up on even the very best critics of all time, and you'll find them being flat-out wrong much of the time.)
That said, I think that film music today isn't to my taste nearly as often as it's been in the past. The rise of "corporate culture" in Hollywood has only had the same effect on movies that the corporatizing of, say, radio has had: the general spread of homogenization. Film scores tend to sound the same much of the time, and what's worse, they're intended and even required to sound the same. Films are edited with "temp tracks", in which music from other films or classical works are slapped into the film as an intended guide for the composers, but then, the composers are required to produce scores that sound very like the temp tracks, as opposed to the works they'd produce using their own instincts and their own voices.
Many fine scores also get rejected when the films test poorly at screenings, since usually at that point in production the score is just about the only thing that can be changed. The film Troy is a notable example; Gabriel Yared wrote a fine score for that film, but when the film tested poorly, the score was removed and James Horner was brought in to crank out a replacement score in a matter of weeks. James Newton Howard had to score King Kong in a similarly short period after Howard Shore's effort was turned down (a shocking development at the time, after the brilliant work Shore had done for Peter Jackson's earlier Lord of the Rings).
Mainstream film right now is not an environment where composers can be distinctive, individual, or innovative, and that's a shame. For an entire series of examples of how the director/composer relationship is supposed to work, one only need go to Japan and look at the films of Hayao Miyazaki. The idea that he'd ever tell Joe Hisaishi what kind of music to write is unthinkable, and the result is that Hisaishi's scores for those films are, in just about every case, either very high in quality or just outright masterpieces. There are some highly talented composers today, just as much the case as was ever so in film. But it does seem to me that finding good film music tends to involve digging through lots of lesser work, as though we're pushing the ratio in Sturgeon's Law to 93 or 94 percent.
But then, I think we have to be careful. Were previous "golden ages" of film music as golden as all that? Are we forgetting the misses, and assuming that what was truly great was representative of film music as a whole during those times? Or, even worse, are we inflating scores that are OK but otherwise fall into that giant realm of musical works which don't make "the Canon" but don't quite deserve total obscurity, either? You see this kind of thing all the time on lots of film music forums: composers who are completely forgotten today, except by the most encyclopedically-knowledged of film music fans, who wrote decent enough scores for the kinds of films you used to see aired at two in the morning on AMC or on the "Two-buck DVD rack" at the supermarket, lauded as "unjustly forgotten masters". You also see composers' entire bodies of work elevated to unfairly high stature. (Let's face it, the man scored more than two hundred films and TV productions. Not everything Jerry Goldsmith produced is a classic.)
So who's good right now? James Newton Howard seems to be the current favorite of the "Goldsmith was God" crowd. For my money, Howard Shore's the best working today, but for some reason, I think he gets overlooked a lot. Gabriel Yared is superb. Michael Giacchino is a musical chameleon, and a first-rate one, at that. Thomas Newman's voice is unmistakable. Jan A.P. Kaczmarek is something of a newcomer to filmscoring outside of his native Poland, but what little of his work I've heard is wonderful. David Arnold's work tends to be viewed in lesser light, but I like him. Alan Silvestri is in no way a great composer, but he's a very fine one, very professional, whose music always does exactly what it's supposed to do (and he's got a tremendous melodic gift). I'm not a big fan of Danny Elfman, but he's got his moments. And there's the "bad boy" of film music, Eliot Goldenthal. Finally, you know what? Hans Zimmer's music doesn't always suck. He's written some good stuff, as have Klaus Badelt and Harry Gregson Williams.
And hey, I'm not about to write off the current film music era as long as John Williams is alive.
4. When did your interest in classical music begin, and what was the piece that really pulled you in the first time?
It's very hard to say when it began, because it was always around to some degree in our home, as far back as I can remember. My sister is six years older than I, and she started piano lessons early enough that I don't remember her not playing the piano (although I do have one very vague memory of riding the freight elevator at the piano dealership, a memory which may well be totally wrong). So there was classical music, as well as other genres, as early as I can recall.
I started my own musical adventures in fifth grade, when I was talked into joining the band. I played French horn that first year, but switched a year later to the trumpet. Even so, I didn't really feel the "bite" of the music for another couple of years. I recall that the first orchestral score I studied was Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor. That work was, and continues to be, for me a revelation. And I've written before of how I came to Berlioz, which was a year or so after I came to Mozart.
In short, it was gradual. There's no guaranteed way to make kids love classical music, but the best way is almost certainly to make sure they're surrounded by it from early on.
5. Finally: how, exactly, is Jaquandor pronounced? I’ve been saying it as though the Q made a K sound and ignoring the U.
To get a definitive answer on this, you'd probably have to ask Doug Moench, the writer who scripted the comic book from which I snagged the name. The comic is Six From Sirius, a space opera (big surprise!) espionage tale that came out as a Marvel Limited Series in the mid-1980s. That said, I pronounce it "juh-KWAN-dor".
OK, that ends that. If anyone would like five questions from me, just drop into comments here and indicate as much. I'll craft some devious questions and e-mail them your way.