Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sweet release from torture

Sweet release from torture.

I believe this phrase was once used to describe the orgasm. Don't ask by whom. I can't remember. But I assure this post has nothing to do with orgasms (sorry, Babs). It has to do with books and is intended for those who like to read.

I finally finishing one of the worst books ever written. It is:

Dragons of Autumn Twilight - Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

I probably started it close to a year ago and let it sit untouched for months at a time - usually in a dusty corner where I'd last hurled it in disgust. Many other books have been started and finished in the mean time. I tend to have a good dozen or so on the go at any one time.

I've not been inclined to critique books on this blog unless I really liked them because - well - it just seems like bad karma for an unpublished fantasy writer to blast published (i.e. legitimate) fantasy writers. But after what I've been through - self-censorship is going out the window. I need to vent.

Why did I stick with Autumn Twilight to the eventual end? I don't know exactly why I do this. There's obviously some kind of obsessive compulsive thing going on. I can't abandon a story. Just can't do it. What was so bad about this piece? It's just bad writing. Bad in every way. Juvenile. As if written by a high-schooler.

The authors seem to have no understanding of their characters. And what little they've figured out about them - they generally don't demonstrate. They just come out and explain it to you. I can't stand this kind of writing. A reader can not get drawn into a story when the author is constantly explaining things. That kind of story is just verbal and second-hand. Good writers explain nothing and demonstrate everything - through dialogue, action, imagery - and useful metaphors. Terry Brooks commits the same crimes. I loved the Shannara books as an adolescent but when I try to read them 20 years later they're just dog-vomiting awful. Unbearable. It's not that I want to be a snob about it. I don't. Brooks' actual material is great. It's exactly what I want to read about - if only he could tell a story competently.

It's like cigars. I used to enjoy a Century Sam or a White Owl! But now that I've experienced the best Cuban and Dominican brands the others just taste like shit in comparison. It's the natural evolution of discrimination I guess.

Oh - sorry for the last post by the way. I had to blow off a little steam! I turned down a couple invitations this weekend, determined to get a lot of writing done and finish one - or maybe even two - projects. But I've been restless and unfocused. The constant - and I mean constant - touring of adolescent shitheads with their eight-million dollar automotive subwoofers has been driving me freaking bananas. I can't sit for five minutes without one of them coming along and rattling all my internal organs into piss-shivvery jello. I could scream. This street is a magnet for them.

So I've done a lot of reading this weekend instead. Knocked off a few books that have been lagging on the reading tour for a while now, including:

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams.

The pleasure here was all in his wit. Luckily my sense of humour meshes with his. If yours doesn't there's no point in trying to read it.

Thoroughly enjoyed every page and laughed out loud regularly. It was easy to abandon for long periods of time though - just because I developed no serious attachment to the heroes. Comedy simply doesn't compel like other styles do. Not to say there's nothing deeper going on here. If you think about it - some of the absurdity he describes mocks the ridiculousness of our own societal conventions. Something I find rather useful.

More recent conquests:

Island - Alistair MacLeod

This was a different form of torture. I got through the first five stories before giving up and shelving the collection permanently. The stories were in essence brilliant. They examined the familial relationships of regular East-coast folk - fishermen and such - and were profoundly real and insightful and emotionally heavy. There was a provocative melancholy delivered entirely between the lines. But most terribly unfortunately - MacLeod will not use contractions in dialogue. He refuses. This utterly blows me away. You know what I mean, right? every person I've ever met talks roughly like this:

"I'll tell you this; I'm certain he'll say he'll do it but then he won't."

Every single MacLeod character talks like this:

"I will tell you this; I am certain he will say he will do it but then he will not."

Do you understand the difference? Read it out loud if you have to.

This staggers me. It blows me away. Through five stories I mentally translated all the dialogue into real-world dialogue but it became too exhausting. It seems to me unbearably stupid and yet so many readers and writers - amateur ones especially - are seemingly blind to this. I don't understand why this practice exists at all - let alone how disturbingly wide-spread it is. It's so ridiculous. It utterly unhinges me. Where in the entire world do people talk like that? I really don't think people talk like that - devoid of contractions - anywhere. Reading MacLeod is like going to an opera 'tragedy' where every element of the performance and every note sung is absolutely perfect - absolutely heart-wrenching - accept that every single performer is wearing an eight-foot high hat made of fruit - and no one else in the audience seems to notice.

I just can't deal with it.

A Son Called Gabriel - Damian McNichol

Grabbed it off a display table at the library on a whim. It's technically very well written and I got caught up in the hero's plight - for a while. Until I started to feel uncomfortable that the hero was such a nice kid while both his parents were stupid and unkind to him and the rest of his family were all stupid and were all predatory toward him and every one of his friends were stupid and predatory and every teacher and every priest and every fellow student were all stupid and were all predatory and every - okay. You get the idea.

Are we to believe that every citizen of Ireland is an idiot just looking to hurt someone or are we to believe that the author has a rather slanted and perhaps narcissistic recollection of his childhood?

Struck - Geoffrey Bromhead

This was the winner of the 2003 Three-Day Novel contest. I ordered it upon entering the same contest in 2006 - a purely masochistic endeavor that yielded a punchy gritty little novella from this hopeful that frankly needs some editing and that should really be fleshed out into a proper novel - a project I've since toyed with off and on. Considering Struck was written in three days - I fully applaud it. The writing is strictly decent and the story thoroughly holds your interest. Bravo.

That character development is a bit weak and the plot progresses only so far is completely understandable considering the challenge. That's surely the nature of the 3-day breed.

Inferno - Dante Alighieri, translated by Allen Mandelbaum

It seems that Mandelbaum's version is the most highly praised of the many but still I worry whether subtle wisdom might have been lost. I read each chapter twice so to try not to miss anything. The language is archaic. The story is over 700 years old. I expected allegory but I'm not too sure what to make of the extremely linear plot that involves so much conversation with dead Italian sinners - each of them historical rather than fictional I presume. I want to assume it represents a journey within Dante's own head - an evolution of the mind and spirit perhaps - but I'll have to tackle the remainder of the Divine Comedy (Purgatorio and Paradiso) before trying to draw conclusions.


Kathleen said...

I'm thinking the cover of the first book should have been enough of an indication of the suckitude you would find within. Sure, I know we shouldn't judge books by their covers, but I'm thinking it was safe on that one.

Had you never read Hitchhiker's Guide before? I thought everybody but me had done so.

I thought of reading Dante's Inferno a year or so ago after reading Rule of Four, but my version was weird. I should get another version.

Ty said...

I think, originally, the Dragonlance books were so popular because they were D&D books. That original trilogy was really the first novels based upon the D&D game (though Gary Gygax might have had out his Kord books by then, can't remember). Being in junior high myself when they came out, I loved that first Dragonlance trilogy for lots of reasons, but one big one being its explanations of how the gaming magic worked in a real-world setting (so to speak).

Nowadays, yeah, it's no longer my cup of tea. And I'd have to go along with you on Terry Brooks. 20 or 30 years ago, yes, today, not.

But, I also don't see much fantasy today I like either. I read lots of fantasy, but I always find myself turning to works written 30 or more years ago.

Fantasy Writer Guy said...

Kats: The 'Twilight' cover pictured is actually different from the edition I was reading.

I'll warn you that Inferno is largely academic. It's not an adventure like Beowulf or The Iliad for instance. I found it fascinating because the subject matter is of particular interest to me these days and because I'm beginning to trust Dante as a true poet - one who sees beyond the pervasive illusions of society.

Ty, I played D&D as a kid - and in fact played the dragonlance modules that align with these books. I vaguely remember controlling the same characters through the same environments that I've now read about 25 years later.

I agree with your observations. It seems these days the better speculative fiction writers are writing Sci-fi, not fantasy.