It’s been a while
Posted May 7, 2008on:
How are you, dear readers? If any of you still exist :P. The premature summer heat of spring (which has now returned to seasonal temperatures) burnt away any and all interests in blogs and blogging. I decided to go with it until it ran out. My reading was not similarly effected. I’ve read the first two in Scalzi’s Old Man’s War…series? for he will continue to write for it as long as he is so inclined and sales are encouraging. One of the local stores brought in a pack of John Wyndham releases so I’ve spent a few days, eyes wide open, reading through The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids (whoa, just…whoa) and I hope to be able to share some thoughts with you about them in a few days. Wyndham appears to be fascinated with man’s ability to change and adapt to new ideas, new environments and the consequences of those who cling to static paradigms. And for an old SF writer his female characters aren’t bad at all. (Unlike others of which I recently learned.)
I don’t know if I’ll be able to write anything much on the Scalzi. I found them fun and entertaining (with The Ghost Brigades guilty of some wearying pages long info-dumping) but they didn’t seem to be saying anything. Not that Scalzi is obligated to do so but novels about such a militaristic society complete with very liberal bioengineering kinda beg for a little something but from what I observed he kinda dances around it, dips a toe in, and then jumps into another action plot line. I am unsure of myself, though, because I theorised that my limited SF experience may hinder my perspective, somewhat. For instance it is common knowledge that the novels were heavily influenced by Heinlein fiction but I’ve never read the guy.
How the Dead Dream proved elusive on a first reading so I’ve chosen to reread it again. Worries that it would read too familiar were not confirmed for reasons I have yet to refine. I find Lydia Millet’s characters, her main character at least, eccentric rather than quirky (the silly, unnecessary, waste of space, for-giggles type) because she takes that one extreme feature, places it immediately before, and explicates how it’s an extension of the character’s basic personality in a very non-showy yet arresting manner. She doesn’t try to wear you out with circus tricks. Because of this her humorous moments work a lot better because at first it’s unexpected. And though a critic described those moments as “asides” are more integral and necessary — without them this would be a boring, didactic lecture with unfulfilled potential.
Is it too late to comment on that Slaves of Golconda read? I couldn’t finish it. Cristina García did not seem so much interested in writing a novel as a series of character profiles (complete with headings) strung weakly together by a basic, uninteresting plot. (Uninteresting to me, at any rate. Woo woo Cuba-communist-intergenerational clash-fish-out-of-water-immigrants-in different country. Tell me something I don’t know or at least try and do something different with the damn thing.) Stuck in the middle of that was an amateur YA novel wherein a young girl struggles with her domineering, restrictive mother, giving readers the right dose of teenage rebellion and oh-so-unconsciously deep insights into human nature. Snore. I’ll try to see what the others got out of it as I think I’m the only one who wasn’t enamoured.
Villette: Nope. Sorry, I know some of you are fans but Brontë was in preacher mode far too often throughout the narrative. Things would just start to get interesting and then she would push Lucy Snowe aside to interject some pages long sermon on the follies of Catholicism and the wonders of enlightened English Protestants; also how stupid and frivolous the French are and how smart and noble the English. She even gave that stupid, self-absorbed English doctor — I count it a miracle that she managed to engage in near Austen-like sarcasm every so often — and her precious pet English whateverhernameis a charmed happy ending. Near the end I skipped pages just to see if the prof jumped Snowe or not. If Shirley is anything like that I’ll abstain.
I’d like to say the writing made up for it but some of her passages were uncomfortably close to Emily Brontë’s exhausting melodrama in Wuthering Heights when it came to depicting Snowe’s depression. That is what led to the skipped pages — near the end Snowe woke up in the middle of the night after being ineffectively drugged (I think?) and escaped out of the house wandering the streets. I thought to myself, Oh holy…I’m not going through one of your damn deranged moments again. Do the prof, slit your wrists, or I’ll slit mine. Later on I picked up that whatever festival she experienced during that night was an actual occurrence. No doubt it’s important but you’d have to pay me to get me to read it for any significant thematic developments.
I started The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. (Curse my inability to keep to my F/SF moratorium.) It is the latest fantasy sensation purported to be “one of the best stories told in any medium in a decade…Shelve [it] beside The Lord of the Rings…and look forward to the day when it’s mentioned in the same breath, perhaps as first among equals.” (Name of reviewer hidden to protect the hoodwinked.) I am at chapter eight. Let’s start ticking off the clichés shall we?
- Famous, brilliant, exceptional assassin tortured about his horrible, horrible past – Check
- Inn as prominent setting – Check (Seriously? I saw it on the first page and thought, Oh god not another faux medieval European setting, please [insert favourite deity here]. [Your favourite deity] didn’t listen.)
- Assassin accompanied by best, loyal buddy who is “dark” so of course he had to be graceful, moving like a dancer and blah blah blah. I bet he’s also noble and respects nature? Sidekicks are allowed that much. – Check
- Ignorant village locals – Check
- Dull looking sword that belies its true value as it is no doubt really famous and/or powerful – Check
- Innocent children’s rhymes that turn out to be totally true and significant! No one saw that coming! – Check
All of this would be forgivable — all of it– if Rothfuss made something new with those elements. Take it to a different place. Aforementioned hoodwinked reviewer implied this is what he does as the book is “a brooding, thoroughly adult meditation on how heroism went wrong”. In a 700+ pages it may be too early to expect all of this to pop up by page 63. The problem is that the writing is so mediocre, at times verging on hysterical, that I may not wait long enough to find it. Ursula K. Le Guin (who was no doubt threatened) wrote that “It is a rare and great pleasure to find a fantasist writing…with true music in the words”. Let’s have an example of this musician at work. (All formatting mine.)
Sunlight poured into the Waystone. It was a cool fresh light, fitted for beginnings. It brushed past the miller as he set his waterwheel turning for the day. It lit the forge the smith was rekindling after four days of cold metal work. It touched draft horses hitched to wagons and sickle blades glittering sharp and ready at the beginning of an autumn day.
Inside the Waystone, the light fell across Chronicler’s face and touched a beginning there, a blank page waiting the first words of a story. The light flowed across the bar, scattered a thousand tiny rainbow beginnings from the colored bottles, and climbed the wall toward the sword, as if searching for one final beginning.
But when the light touched the sword there were no beginnings to be seen. In fact, the light the sword reflected [Ed: *&#$$*# sword — it’s the second in 20+ small pages that he’s given us this ” old dull sword” routine] was dull, burnished, and ages old. Looking at it, Chronicler remembered that though it was the beginning of the a day, it was also late autumn and growing colder. The sword shone with the knowledge that dawn was a small beginning compared to the ending of a seas: the ending of a year. [Ed: It shone with what?)
Do you see what he’s trying to get at there? Not me. Something about…no can’t fathom it. For a “thoroughly adult” book he does not think much of our intelligence. I get that fire might something to keep an eye on in the book but if I read one more line about fires snapping, crackling, blazing, flaring, spitting or glowing I’m going to burn…a fake copy of this book because I still have the receipt for the real one and the return window is still open. Whether you like Tolkien’s prose or not it’s difficult to deny that he had a particular style that showed its influences while seeming authentic rather than imitative. There is nothing that stands out about Rothfuss’ prose, much less anything musical. The best thing I can say is that he avoids writing any poetry for the most part, sticking to cute childish limericks.
That’s another thing. The different peoples presented are poorly costumed facsimiles of real world counterparts. So the main character’s people are gypsies with a different name and they meet up on a dour community who are costumed Puritans. I’m becoming quite bored with religious folks being used as the predictable resisters of all joy and intellectual curiosity. Wyndham has them in The Chrysalids but he makes the community’s philosophy work as an understandable, natural reaction to the events rather than a story element he hit with a dart on a story board. It’s FANTASY, Rothfuss. Be inventive! Go crazy! Maybe make the religious folks curious and open-minded, eh? Maybe make the non-believers rigid and unwelcoming? LOTR’s appeal was that while its influences and source material were obvious on a conceptual level Tolkien went to great lengths to make something completely new — or to make it appear so. It’s the difference between the good ol’ days of remixed music when the artist gave it such a different setting that a new side to the music was exposed, a new angle provided — not these days when a “remix” means asking a rapper to add a verse.
High fantasy is not for me. Tolkien and Kay were flukes in a genre filled with flawed heroes spouting cheesy lore. At least in romance the tortured alpha heroes are sexy.