I read this book when I was in high school, returned it to the library, forgot the title and author, and was never able to find it again. Until I discovered [livejournal.com profile] whatwasthatbook, where, in a truly bizarre coincidence, someone had posted about it earlier that day. This was my description:

"A fantasy novel, probably from the '80s, about a group of role-playing gamers who go to a fantasy world where they become the characters they play. It was NOT one of the series by Joel Rosenberg. One of the women, who might have been overweight or thought she was unattractive, has magic bracelets that she can click together and become this beautiful flying insubstantial creature, but she loses touch with her emotions when she does it. Someone else might have been able to freeze people."

Doesn't sound very interesting, does it, if that's all there was that stuck in my mind. However, since there was a copy available on Paperback Swap, I ordered it. Having re-read it, I'm not surprised that it stuck in my memory, nor that it's a very obscure book. It's something of an ambitious failure, an attempt at revealing what Carpenter seems to see as the unhealthy wish-fulfillment fantasies underlying the genre of fantasy under the cover of a very standard fantasy wish-fulfillment quest novel, complete with a battle in every chapter. If Carpenter had better chops as a writer, this might have been an M. John Harrison-esque novel which lures the reader into the fantasy, then forces them to see their true and ugly reflections. However, Carpenter's prose is nothing special, and he makes several decisions that end up undermining his intentions.

I should say that I don't generally care for stories about how fantasy sucks and is bad for you, unless they are very specifically about how fantasy may be bad for particular people for particular reasons and in a particular manner. Obviously, I do not think that fantasy or fantasies are noxious in general, or I wouldn't read and write them. However, if I'm going to read a book with that thesis, I would prefer that it do a good job of illuminating it. In any case, I'm glad I re-read Carpenter's book, because, like many books which are flawed but ambitious, it illuminates certain writing issues more clearly than either excellent novels, competent hackwork, or books which are just plain bad.

The basic plot of Carpenter's book is that there are five young adults, all of them with some personality flaw or secret sorrow, who meet to play role-playing games and escape their wretched lives. But when they gather to do so one evening, a mysterious man gives them five figurines, each of which are for characters with personalities and abilities which correspond to the game-players' hearts' desires-- generally in a way which exaggerates them to unhealthy levels. For instance, the man who's big and clumsy and tongue-tied, and feels trapped by the necessity of taking care of his bed-ridden mother, gets a nimble, quick-witted thief who doesn't give a damn about anybody. The woman who can't untangle herself from a relationship with a man who doesn't love her becomes an ice maiden with a strong will but no emotions. And so forth.

They all get thrown into a fantasy world where they are those characters, but with an overlay of the people they were before. Things keep attacking them, and as they battle forward, they become more and more subsumed into their characters.

To explain how this plot does not actually support the thesis, I must spoil the entire book )
I read this book when I was in high school, returned it to the library, forgot the title and author, and was never able to find it again. Until I discovered [livejournal.com profile] whatwasthatbook, where, in a truly bizarre coincidence, someone had posted about it earlier that day. This was my description:

"A fantasy novel, probably from the '80s, about a group of role-playing gamers who go to a fantasy world where they become the characters they play. It was NOT one of the series by Joel Rosenberg. One of the women, who might have been overweight or thought she was unattractive, has magic bracelets that she can click together and become this beautiful flying insubstantial creature, but she loses touch with her emotions when she does it. Someone else might have been able to freeze people."

Doesn't sound very interesting, does it, if that's all there was that stuck in my mind. However, since there was a copy available on Paperback Swap, I ordered it. Having re-read it, I'm not surprised that it stuck in my memory, nor that it's a very obscure book. It's something of an ambitious failure, an attempt at revealing what Carpenter seems to see as the unhealthy wish-fulfillment fantasies underlying the genre of fantasy under the cover of a very standard fantasy wish-fulfillment quest novel, complete with a battle in every chapter. If Carpenter had better chops as a writer, this might have been an M. John Harrison-esque novel which lures the reader into the fantasy, then forces them to see their true and ugly reflections. However, Carpenter's prose is nothing special, and he makes several decisions that end up undermining his intentions.

I should say that I don't generally care for stories about how fantasy sucks and is bad for you, unless they are very specifically about how fantasy may be bad for particular people for particular reasons and in a particular manner. Obviously, I do not think that fantasy or fantasies are noxious in general, or I wouldn't read and write them. However, if I'm going to read a book with that thesis, I would prefer that it do a good job of illuminating it. In any case, I'm glad I re-read Carpenter's book, because, like many books which are flawed but ambitious, it illuminates certain writing issues more clearly than either excellent novels, competent hackwork, or books which are just plain bad.

The basic plot of Carpenter's book is that there are five young adults, all of them with some personality flaw or secret sorrow, who meet to play role-playing games and escape their wretched lives. But when they gather to do so one evening, a mysterious man gives them five figurines, each of which are for characters with personalities and abilities which correspond to the game-players' hearts' desires-- generally in a way which exaggerates them to unhealthy levels. For instance, the man who's big and clumsy and tongue-tied, and feels trapped by the necessity of taking care of his bed-ridden mother, gets a nimble, quick-witted thief who doesn't give a damn about anybody. The woman who can't untangle herself from a relationship with a man who doesn't love her becomes an ice maiden with a strong will but no emotions. And so forth.

They all get thrown into a fantasy world where they are those characters, but with an overlay of the people they were before. Things keep attacking them, and as they battle forward, they become more and more subsumed into their characters.

To explain how this plot does not actually support the thesis, I must spoil the entire book )
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