Saturday, June 27, 2009

First person smart-ass

It always surprises me when people like the books I like for the same reasons I like them. I don't know why it should; I suppose my tastes are not so very esoteric. For example, on, I've come across a number of blog posts and comments about Steven Brust, who is perhaps my favorite author. (As you may remember from my previous post on this blog, about The Phoenix Guards.) And, in a bizarre turn, the author of my favorite webcomic Penny Arcade is also deeply fond of Brust.

This post discusses the structure of Brust's Vlad Taltos series and the futility of reading them in chronological order. I've had almost this exact discussion with a friend about the virtues of publication order versus internal chronological order. Or this post which discusses the terrors of terrible science fiction covers, with particular emphasis on why it's worth reading the Vlad books anyway.

When trying to sell people on the Vlad Taltos series I generally describe them as "imagine if Corwin from Zelazny's Amber books was the hero of Ocean's Eleven". So you can imagine my surprise to find articles and comments agreeing with me; Rojer Zelazny's Amber books probably started the trend of the "First Person Smartass" POV. The combination of a smart guy with a cutting wit and endless competence gets me every time. I simply adore Brust's Dragaera and Zelazny's Amber. Megan Whalen Turner's Gen series (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia) is my current obsession.

I must admit that I love that kind of character even when he's not the hero of the story. Before I came across the term "First Person Smartass" I generally used the (less-pithy) "guy who's a total jerk but is so good at what he does that he gets away with it.

For example, in David Eddings' Belgariad/Mallorean series both Silk and Belgarath are totally that guy (and in The Redemption of Althalus the titular character is basically Silk and Belgarath smushed together into one guy anyway). All my favorite movies have that guy too, although I realize that can't exactly be called first person; Ocean's Eleven, Catch Me if You Can, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Pitch Black, The Princess Bride... Captain Kirk in the new Startrek movie is arguably that guy. Or again on TV, Dr. House is that guy.

It's interesting to note, now that I look at the list, that there aren't a lot of female First-Person Smartasses out there. Maybe the heroine of Janet Evanovich's mysteries? Or the heroine of Laurel K. Hamilton's paranormal romances? Elizabeth Moon has some really tough, competent heroines in Paksenarrion or Ky Vatta... but none of these really have that cutting humor I'm talking about. Robert Heinlein's Friday might qualify (other problems with the book aside).

So who am I missing on the list? I'd be particularly interested to hear any more female names.

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