Friday, January 29, 2016

The Illearth War (1977)

The Illearth War (1977) continues Stephen R. Donaldon's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. If you liked the first book, you'll like this one, and if you didn't like the first book, then you won't like this one either.

In this tale, the unlikable leper, Thomas Covenant, is pulled back to the Land by the summons of Elena, high lord of Revelstone. But a few weeks have passed for Covenant since his first adventure, but a full forty years have passed in the Land. The time of Lord Foul's victory draws near as Lord Foul's minions mass for imminent war. They hope that the power of white gold can save them.

On this visit, Covenant finds that he's not the only real-world person drawn into the land. Another person, Hile Troy, had been summoned years before and has risen to the position of General. He's not counting on magic to win, but his use of strategy and tactics. He'll have his work cut out for him, because Lord Foul has a fantasy army of unstoppable proportions.

The work itself contains a split narrative. Midway through the book, Hile Troy becomes the main character as we follow the desperate Illearth War. Meanwhile, the final third follows the quest of Covenant and High Lord Elana.

If you expect a happy ending, you've got another thing coming. This is a Thomas Covenant book. Not having every burn in Hell counts as victory (but some people are going to burn).

The fantasy war itself remains Tolkienesque. While the human army tires, needs to eat and drink, and suffers from mortality, Foul's army mysteriously never tires, nor hungers, nor anything. He's got a perpetual war machine going. This is pretty normal for "overwhelming invasion" fantasy stories.

Covenant himself gets more bearable if you just skip most of the text. This is an easy book to skim. Most of the description doesn't add to the story. Skimming also helps you to skip over all the self-loathing and angst, which helps immensely.

I first ready this book back in 1979, and it was massive and huge and all sorts of awesome. How well has it stood the test of time? Like platform shoes and heavy sideburns, the book shows itself a relic of its time. Take away the angst, and the story itself becomes astonishingly simple, with very little for Covenant to do. He influences events, but almost never by his own choosing. For most of the work, we can substitute him with a recording that says, "Don't touch me," and "Hellfire," and never notice that he's not a real person at all. The only major woman in the story requires trigger alerts. [Warning: Icky ahead. Really.] Yet, the story also shows itself more progressive than would be expected. Both man and women are in the armies, earning rank equally. Even this mere attempt at inclusiveness puts this work far ahead of many SFF works of the day.

The book still deserves its place in the 70's as one of the best fantasies out there, but in the larger SFF literary context that's emerged since that decade, the reader has many more engaging options.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Lord Foul's Bane (Top Fantasy Novels of the 1970s)

Lord Foul's Bane (1977) begins Stephen R. Donaldson's epic fantasy, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Thomas Covenant is a leper, and must keep his wits about him because his leprosy demands vigilance. When summoned into an alternate world, the Land, the magical healing of the world heals his body, but in his soul, he is still a leper.

Lord Foul's Bane is the weakest book in this first trilogy of Thomas Covenant. I often felt myself unengaged and uninterested in the main event. I honestly didn't care who lived or died. Donaldson's writing is quite competent, often flowing, but the overall work often falls flat.

This is a divisive book. I've known far too many people, mostly women, who simply could not read the series. The world and the outlook posed to them simply drove them away. Of all the books that I've read from the 70's, this is the only one that requires a trigger warning. The protagonist rapes a girl.

The book hit like lighting in the 70's. This is one of those books that dared to be different. It gave us an unlikable man who didn't want to be a hero. Donaldson gave us a different narrative to "yes, I'll be the chosen one." He gave us sturm and drag. He gave us doubt that the protagonist would do the right thing, and in many cases, veering from the epic fantasy script.

Underneath all that, the book itself is a fairly exemplary epic fantasy. It has dwarves, elves, kung fu easterners, wizards, goblins, and all that, except that they've had their serial numbers filed off. They may be described as humans and cavewrights and ur-viles, but we readers know better. Lord Foul has returned after a thousand years, threatening to take over the land. In response, the Lords must defeat the evil Drool Rockworm and recover the Staff of Law. Between good and evil is wild magic, white gold, the very wedding ring that Covenant wears upon his finger.

As far as villains go, they chew the scenery very well. Their rants come across as rather theatrical. Lord Foul even gives his evil rant at the beginning of the novel. There's no need to wait.

Defining Epic Fantasy

What is epic fantasy? What traits defines it? I'll wave my hands a lot and try to come up with a better description than the other descriptions of epic fantasy that I've read.

Epic fantasy contains many words. A typical epic fantasy book exceeds 100,000 words. They are not quick reads. Their length requires a solid commitment from the reader.

Example: The Lord of the Rings contains about 473,000 words.

Epic fantasy contains many absolutes. The villain is an absolute evil. Characters can usually be divided into good and evil. The villain has one master plan. His followers are absolutely loyal. The magic sword is absolutely needed to defeat the villain.

Example: In Lord of the Rings, many characters are absolutely evil, such as Sauron, Grima Wormtongue, and the Balrog. Other characters are absolutely good, such as Galdalf, Aragorn, and Elrond. The One Ring is absolutely evil and almost absolutely indestructible. Sauron's armies are absolutely unbeatable.

Epic fantasies are impersonal. Although the villain may have some sort of personal relationship with the hero, for the most part, the villain's taking over because that's what he wants to do. For the most part, the villain represents an impersonal danger to the average Joe. Likewise, the heroes are running about helping people in order to stop the villain. They help people along the way because they happen to be there, not because of personal relationships.

Examples: Sauron isn't conquering the world due to a spat with somebody. No apologies will stop anything. He raises his army to kill and conquer because that's his goal.

Epic fantasies characters interact formally over familiarly, especially around leaders. Introductions, state talk, and alliances often produce stiff dialog. Words have consequences in such literature, and so must be used very carefully.

Example: Gandalf speaks to King Theoden. Gandalf speaks to Saruman. The meeting of good people at Elrond's house. Galadriel's meeting with the fellowship. The Entmoot.

Ceremony is important in epic fantasy. Ceremonies are often used to mark important occasions. Ruining a ceremony has great consequences.

Examples: The forming of the fellowship. Galadriel's mirror. Bilbo's 111th birthday party speech.

Societies in epic fantasies are monolithic. Each society exists, has existed as it has existed for hundreds, if not thousands of years. These societies live next to each other, but never seem to influence each other. Each society has its own tradition, which do not transfer to other societies.

Examples: Dwarves and elves have lived unchanged for centuries. Gondor has no king and hasn't had one for over a thousand years, yet they still expect one to show up one day. Every society is very segregated.

Epic fantasies put great weight on what is right and proper, and what is right and proper exists objectively. Many epics feature the right and proper king to take a throne. The villain is usually not the right and proper ruler, and so represents a great wrong. Putting things to rights are important actions within the work.

Examples: The cleansing of the Shire. The restoration of Theoden.

In the end, philosophical conflict devolves into physical conflict. In the end, the final physical conflict is intertwined with the resolution of the philosophical conflict.

Example: Aragorn leads the final battle against Mordor while Frodo fights Gollum for the One Ring. The destruction of the One Ring resolves all battles.

The threat to the kingdom or civilization comes from the outside, not the inside. The outside threat is uncivilized and uncontrolled.

The world contained an ancient past that was better/greater/more learned/more magical than now.

Example: In Lord of the Rings, this is the Third Age of the world. Two great ages came before now.

The foreigner corrupts your allies. Often the foreigner has destroyed civilizations from the inside before. To ally with the outsider is to become corrupted.

Examples: Sauron corrupts Saruman. Sauron once corrupted the Dunedain by living among them. Sauron fooled the peoples of Middle Earth, using his magic rings as tricks. Wormtongue corrupts Theoden.

Magic is present, but not omnipresent. Magic does not erase sweat equity.

Examples: Gandalf does magic sometimes, but most of the time, he does no magic at all. He walks like everyone else. Sauron uses foot troops to enforce his power.

The usurping enemies are cruder, more childlike, dumber, and far more like the lower classes. The rightful people people act and behave as the upper classes. Rightful peoples display admirable traits.

Examples: Orcs speak brutally and eat people. They stink. They have little hierarchy aside from brute force. Their weapons and armors are crude. Elves are pretty. Humans are noble. Dwarves are steadfast. Hobbits are earnest and earthy.

Ancient and unique objects are held or sought by the various factions.

Example: The One Ring. Aragorn's sword. The Palantir. Galadriel's Phial.

How well does this hold up? That's up for you to decide. Grab you favorite epic fantasy and test my observations. Do they hold up? Which ones don't hold up? Which ones did I miss? Join the fun.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Unsophisticated Time (Album Retrospective)

Haling from 1985, you'd think that Marti Jone's Unsophisticated Time would be full of synthesizers, synthetic clothing, and pop magic, all on a background of robot drummers. Yet, in the college radio days, this wasn't true.

Hell happened to music in the 80's. With the creation of hard rock vs. soft rock stations, anything that didn't fit into those categories, which was most of popular music at the time, wound up in musical exile or college radio. It's in this place that the big acts of the late 80's simmered and stewed, ready to wreck havoc in the late 80's and early 90's. It is into this sphere of unfitting that Unsophisticated Time lived. Marti could not have been long away from Color Me Gone, a band that she performed with just a few years earlier.

In her first solo album, Marti, along with her producer, Don Dixon (who she would marry), produced a perfect pop album for the wrong decade. Low key, sparse by 80's standards, underproduced, and full of naturalistic sounds, with songs that only an introvert could love, and I did love them, Unsophisticated Time brings to us a clever, intelligent, playful, and sweet collection of songs.

The album opens with "Lonely Is (As Lonely Does)", a college radio hit. With a strong, but subdued rift, mildly jangly guitar, and a soft synth, Marti delivers a melancholic tone combined with introspection.

This track is followed up by "(If I Could) Walk Away", another college radio favorite. Don introduces the song with a slide-sounding guitar, beefing up Marti's understated tune. The tune itself is one of desire and ambivalence, about the desire to leave one relationship for another.

Perhaps the best song of all is the unremittingly sweet and unabashed "Follow You All Over the World." In an interview, Marti related how her audience knew all the words despite the song having no repeated lyrics, so my high opinion of this tune is shared by many. This song is not sweet in the saccharine manner, but in an emotional manner. Despite the backup playing the track, every instrument is held back, with Marti's acoustic guitar playing taking front stage, and in truth, that's all the production that this tune really needed.

There are times when the album feels like an acoustic version of a heavily machined 80's track, with it's steady manual drums, steady keyboards, and upbeat intensity. Fortunately, none of that impacts Marti's emotion. Her vocal performance always comes through. Sometimes, the arrangements feel right out of 1977, more in line with the Nerve and Blondie, and the early days of punk-pop.

Although I don't think that the arrangements all hold up equally well 30 years later, I can't fault their overall production choices. Don delivered the production that these songs asked for, which is why I still love this album so well. Thank you, Marti and Don.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat (Stories, 1973-1984)

An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat collects 10 Glen Cook's short stories from the 1970's and early 80's. These stories all take place in the world of the Dread Empire. For anyone who is familiar with this Black Company series, these stories should look familiar, for the ideas and tones of these tales would coalesce into his Black Company novels.

The stories vary in tone and engagement. Some are harder toned than others, some more mythic, and some more engaging. Almost all fall clearly under the sword and sorcery milieu, with their gritty feel, petty quarrels, ambiguous protagonists, and rampant, unbridled, and unapologetic sexism.

The collection opens with "Soldier of an Empire Unacquainted with Defeat" (1980).  In this dreadfully dull and unengaging tale, a soldier from the Dread Empire hangs about with farmers while seeking a new life. I found this the single least engaging story in the book, and also the longest. Once past it, I found the remaining stories far more engaging and gripping.

"The Nights of Dreadful Silence" (1973) is a Bragi Ragnarson story. A wizard has been promised a payment by the king of his own daughter, but the king refuses to honor his word. Bragi stumbles into the argument on the wizard's side, and trickery ensues.

"Finding Svale's Daughter" (first appearance) is a fairytailish story. To be honest, I had to skim this story to remember anything about it. It's competent, like oatmeal. Its very palatablility renders it unmemorable.

"Ghost Stalk" (1978) is the first of the Vengeful Dragons stories. The Vengeful Dragon is a terrible ship, full of horrible crew, who do horrible things (trigger warning, especially terrible things to women), and meet their doom due to terrible magics. This, and the following Vengeful Dragon stories, make an excellent set. This story is also noteworthy for having the genetics of the Black Company running through it.

"Filed Teeth" (1981) is as close to a Black Company story you can get without actually putting a label onto it saying, "the Black Company." Although set in the world of the Dread Empire, it could easily be ported to the North. All the elements that would come to set the tenor and tone of the Black Company are laid out right here. Of all these stories, this is the only one which I had read in my youth, having received "Dragons of Darkness" for Christmas.

"Castle of Tears" (1979) is a Ragni Ragnarson story. This time, he goes looking for a legendary object to save a princess.

"Call for the Dead" (1980) is the second Vengeful Dragon story. Continuing where the first story let off, the damned crew are "rescued" by a wizard from a black throne. Motifs here will reappear in the Black Company's southern adventures.

"Severed Heads" (1984) is a story of vengeance where not a single word is wasted. It's a damned tight story, from beginning to end, and shames every other tale in this collection. This story also requires a trigger warning. If you can keep going, then do.

"Silverheels" (1981) is another fairytale like story. A man, a talking pony, and a talking kitten have quite an adventure in very few pages.

"Hell's Forge" (first appearance) is the final Vengeful Dragon tale. The crew is summoned by yet another evil wizard for more evilness, only to learn that any deal with the Vengeful D. crew is a bad, bad, bad deal.

All in all, I found the collection both satisfying and enlightening. I really do need to read more sword and sorcery.

Monday, January 11, 2016

MacGuffin Issues with The Force Awakens

I have an issue with The Force Awakens, this issue centers around the use of the MacGuffin. The structure of a MacGuffin works roughtly like this: everyone wants its, everyone talks about it, you learn about it, and at the end of the film/story, the conflict is directly over it.

The Force Awakens breaks almost all of those basic rules of MacGuffining.

Clarity. What exactly is the MacGuffin? Is it the map, BB-8, or Luke Skywalker? Not much time is spent on any of these items in the film despite them being central. For example, Luke is important because he's a jedi. Once he rejoins the Republic, or the Resistance, something very vague will happens, so vague that nobody knows what it is, not even his enemies. Likewise, there's a map to Luke, but the map never matters until the end of the film. The gaining of the MacGuffin is supposed to feel like a big moment in the film, but in this one, which moment is it? And more importantly, why don't most of them feel like big moments?

Conflict. The MacGuffin drives the final conflict. In Episode IV, there's the plans to the Death Star, which leads to a showdown with the Death Star. The MacGuffin is directly tied to the finale, the final 15 minutes of the film. In Episode VII, BB8 and the map don't lead to a battle against Starkiller Base, which has nothing to do with either the map or Luke Skywalker. Essentially, Starkiller Base walks in from off screen. That's the point where resolving the MacGuffin should reside and dealing with the implications of that resolution.

So the First Order is trying to get the map as well. Cool. That's conflict. What exactly are their PLANS once they gain the map to Luke Skywalker? We don't know. Will they blow his planet up? We don't know. Will they attempt to sway him? We don't know. What did Rylo Ken hope to get out of this? The audience needs to know what failure will cause, but in this film, we don't know any of the implications of failure.

Likewise, we needed to know what what failure to find Luke meant to the Resistance. What exactly would he turn around if he were present? We really don't understand what good Luke would accomplish. I find it amazing that we don't know what success means for the Resistance who began the search for Luke.

Obviousness. Although a MacGuffin is obvious from the outside, for the most part, a MacGuffin should fit into the film as if it belongs there. That wasn't the case in Episode VII, where the MacGuffin of the map said, "I'm the MacGuffin." Its use felt too obvious, and its obviousness was amplified by the trope's poor use.

Maybe I misremember. Maybe there are lines which explained what the First Order's practical intentions were towards Luke Skywalker. If so, please enlighten me.

The thing is, none of those things above matter, because the real story is Rey's internal journey, which I found rather muddled. With the introduction of Luke's light saber, we had a MacGuffin appear that seemed to replace the map. The light saber's introduction and vision provided an implicit promise that it could lead Rey to Luke.

I suppose that we could use a series of MacGuffins, all to push Rey towards Luke, but that sort of film would be structured differently from Episode VII.

Friday, January 8, 2016

160 in 1 Project Kit

I don't know why this particular toy returned to me lately, but it did. So, I went searching about, and I found this image:



I think that I asked for one of these things in the 6th grade. Radio Shack had a great catalog back then, including fascinating things like this. I imagined myself wiring together circuits, and soon afterwards, designing my own. I'm pretty sure that this kit fits the time period as my, like this kit's, had an LED.

Not to surprise you, but like many kids of that age, my intentions did not match my experience. I used the little enclosed wires to connect some springs together, making some sounds and hooking some things together just as the enclosed experiment book said, but beyond that, I did not make of this kit what I could have. That's entirely aside from getting your wiring to actually work, because somewhere along the way, I attached a connection poorly. The drawings were all detailed and there were all these wires to hook up to make anything work. It all seemed so much. I did not show the patience to get through even the medium difficulty projects, let alone work out the principles of electronics.

Yeah, ADHD, I'm looking at you.

I'm afraid my kit sat in the closet a great deal, just like many other kits.

I remember the wood. It was cheap stuff, very light, but effective at its job. I also recall that I had that side slot to store my parts.

I doubt that my kit even reached high school. Like so many things, I have no idea what became of it, other than it went out the door sometime or another.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

90125 (Music Retrospective)

In 1983, Yes brought us 90125, an album that garnered them both critical acclaim and financial success. That album sold well, rescuing Yes from obscurity, introducing them as a fresh band, as fresh as any band in the early 80's. With this album, they emerged a band reborn, producing a sound unmatched by any other act out there.

90125 was powerful.

In 1983, metal was doing its best to claim the throne of rock, asserting that no other form was worth calling rock. Punk had run its course, having failed in the fight. It was still around, but it had clearly lost its momentum. New wave was peaking, with synth sounds. In colleges, REM was the new darling of the day, and knowing them was proof of your coolness. On top was the revitalized Michael Jackson, just coming into his own. Into that, Yes, with their magnificently mixed arrangement of guitar and synth, along with their complex human drums, created a sound that created a place between and apart from all those other forms.

I was 17 back then, reading Glen Cook's Dread Empire series, wondering at Robotech, dealing with all my newly emerging teenage emotions, and finding an echo in "Owner of a Lonely Heart." With such strong feelings, no gentle, Oprah style delicate listening would do. No, hard guitars and raging drums expressed my pains and anxieties far better. I wasn't alone. "Owner of a Lonely Heart" rocketed up the charts.

90125 didn't stop after one song. I wouldn't be here writing this retrospective if that were the case. For one song after another, ambivalent lyrics, both hopeful and resigned, knowing and naive, overpowering and supportive, emerge from every tune. These lyrics do not pander to their audience, they acknowledge their audience. They say, "Your fight is real, and we've been there, and your passions are real."

What strikes me most about this album, on this re-listening, are all the emotions that come through the tunes. These songs are not filled with mono-emotions, but with mixed emotions. Anger, hope, fear, frustration, delight, love, frustration, insecurity. All these emotions emerge, supporting us as the flawed human beings that we are. In this powerful music, we males had a space for weakness and heartache, failure and disappointment, endearment and affection.

At the end, I must call this an optimistic album, perhaps the last great optimistic album of the rock age, before cynicism became the hallmark of 80's culture. In the midst of all the turmoil present on the songs, men older than us told us that we would make it through, succeed, transition, adapt, and continue on. We weren't going to come out of this turmoil unchanged, nor unmarred, but we would come out of it strong.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Steam Powered Airship and Why That's a Bad Idea

Last year sometime, I read an explanation of why a steam powered airship was a bad idea. Their idea: because steam engines are so heavy, they would be too heavy for airships. That's bunk. If you pick a locomotive engine as a typical steam engine, you're going to arrive at highly inaccurate answer. Locomotive steam engines were specialty steam powered machines for moving massive tonnages across rails. These things had to weigh a lot and did weigh a lot. However, they were not the only example of steam engine available, and being on the upper range of weight, are poor references for airships in the same way that a 12-cylinder racing engine is a poor reference for a rubber boat.

A better reference for airships would be steam cars. These far lighter steam system drove motorcars in the early automotive days. If you remove the vehicle chassis, the steam hardware consisted of a boiler and pistons, likely weighing only 200-300 pounds, and a gasoline tank. Gasoline was used over coal because its energy density was far higher. Shoveling coal into a car was a really bad idea and nobody did it.

So, if you could create a miniaturized steam system based on similar historic car models, then why didn't they do that back in the day?

Because it's a pretty bad idea once you think about it. In the competition between the internal combustion engine and the steam engine, the internal combustion engine won hands down.

At first, it seems like the steam engine should win. These things are simple. You have a boiler or a steam generator, steam piping, and cylinders. That's it. Mechanically, the system was astonishingly simple. If it broke, you patched the tubing or you cleared something. In comparison, an internal combustion engine consisted of far more parts, many of which moved about.

The first issue consists of water. Gasoline engines don't need it except for their radiators, while steam engines are thirsty for water. Without a recirculator, a steam engine will exhaust its water very quickly. If you are in the air and you need water, you need to descend to get water, which is hard to do in the middle of the Atlantic or far away from civilization. Even with a recirculator, you would either need a daily water stop or you would need to carry far more water, and water weighs a lot.

The second issue consists of heat. Gasoline engines run hot and use radiators to dump the heat. The higher you go, the colder the air gets, which helps the internal combustion engine dump excess heat. In comparison, the efficiency of a steam engine depends on its ability to conserve heat. The more heat that an engine loses, the more fuel that it takes to keep going. Cold works directly against your engine. Even worse is freezing. If a steam engine must be shut down, the water inside the pistons will freeze if it's cold enough, and once they're frozen, getting them unfrozen is a difficult chore. A steam engine can't be restarted as long as there is any water remaining in the cylinders (you can't compress water), especially if that water's frozen.

The third issue is repair. Any engine that goes bad needs to be repaired in the air. Overall, gasoline engines were easier to repair and could run with misfiring cylinders. Steam engines tended to be more difficult to repair, as they had so few moving parts, and they either worked or they didn't. In this case, resilience beat simplicity.

If you didn't need an internal combustion engine, you could turn it off. Starting them back up was very straight forward. In comparison, starting up a steam engine is demonstrably more complicated. In the case of a boiler, you were better off maintaining its temperature, which cost you fuel. If you shut down the boiler, you had to reboil the water before the engine could work again. Presumably an airship would use a steam generator, which boils far smaller amounts of water very quickly. Even so, quickly is slower than starting a comparable internal combustion engine.

In short, steam engines were a pain in ass to run while airborne. (Truthfully, they were a pain in the ass on the ground, too.) Note that internal combustion engines of the day were a pain in the ass, too, just less so than steam engines.

Literary Speculative Fiction

So, what defines a literary speculative fiction (which would cover both literary fantasy and literary science fiction)? Is that an achievable goal? I think that it is.

In goal-oriented speculative fiction, the adventure has a clearly announced endpoint and identifiable milestones. Milestones may appear or disappear (as plot twists) but the end tends to remain the same. Vast amounts of fantasy and SF fall into this fold. Star Wars, the Secret of NIMH, Watership Down, Jurrasic Park, Around the World in 80 Days, and The Avengers all fall into this rubrik.

Goal-orientation is a huge field by itself. Murder mysteries, horror, and thrillers all fall into the goal-oriented field of fiction. It should be no surprise that speculative fiction can morph easily into all of these.

In literary speculative fiction, the structure is a life arc of a character. The character's experience has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but the apparent plot itself does not follow a firm structure, often feeling episodic. It lacks the milestone and fixed goal structure of a quest.

A grant example of literary fantasy is the Earthsea series by Ursula LeGuin. Although we see many parts of our characters, there's no goal to tell us when we're done. Their ultimate journeys are not outside, but inside. Every character passes through the markers of adulthood, from the formal ones that say that they are adults, to the spiritual ones that mark the completion of that transition.

The great difficulty of pinning down literary fantasy further is that the topics are experiential. They are about the inner character, a topic which is as wide as the sea is deep. Keeping the local action interesting while traversing across the character development arc is considerably more difficult than plotting a goal-oriented book.

While not mutually exclusive, as each sort of fiction include both goals and character arcs, the difference is the focus of the narrative and what feels like a satisfactory conclusion to the work.

More Fantasy Genre Redefinitions

I've been rethinking fantasy definitions some more. I continue being dissatisfied with existing fantasy definitions, so I've written some more of my own.

Quest Fantasy - A fantasy whose story revolves around a (usually) clearly announced endpoint. The protagonist(s) then go about doing what needs doing to reach that clear endpoint. The structure consists of learning the goal, encountering difficulties reaching the goal, accomplishing the goal, and then wrapping up the storyline.

Heroic Quest Fantasy - In this style of fantasy, the protagonist acts to set the world to rights, using his abilities not for himself, but for the sake of everyone else. The hero tends to be a prime motivator. Classic examples include Lord of the Rings, Beowulf, Star Wars (Episode 4).

Unheroic Quest Fantasy - In this style of fantasy, the protagonists acts to his own advantage, using his abilities to preserve himself and improve his own position. The hero tends to be an opportunist, often having unadmirable traits.

Military Quest Fantasy - In this style of fantasy, the protagonist does what he's paid to do. He is often called upon to do unsavory things. The protagonist tends to be a mercenary, often having little or no control over what happens. If the protagonist does have control, his control is finite. Notable examples include The Black Company.

Serial/Epic - Any of the above can be stretched out into long books (Epics), or broken apart into many books in a row (serialized). Each individual story is self contained, but the final goal is present through all the books. For example, in Harry Potty, the defeat of Valdimort is the final goal, even if all the stories between are about something else.