General Books thread
30 October 2014 at 16:12 #34321Anonymous @
Im afraid I havent played those games (sorry). Halo is like dark sci fi. Archaic meets space. Tombs meet space stations. A clasb of old and new etc. The books are interesting but unfortunately ( like whenever video games are adpted) they do not provide the investment that the games do. Halo: Combat Evolved is one of the greatest games of all time. I thouroughly recommend it.30 October 2014 at 16:21 #34322BadWulf @badwulf
@TheCrackIntheWall Is it multiplayer? I tend to avoid multiplayer, as I much prefer the immersion involved in single player campaigns. There’s only so much being dubbed a “n00b” and being “pwned” that I can take before losing interest!
I was comparing Halo to Larry Niven’s Ringworld (a novel) because AFAIK both of them involve megastructures in the shape of a loop that imitate gravity via centripetal force on their rotating inner surfaces (Ringworld is built around a star)31 October 2014 at 17:24 #34379Anonymous @
There is a multiplayer but then I think every AAA game release has multiplayer. It helps bring in the extra cash. Story and atmosphere is what makes Halo a winner.
I haven’t read Ringworld. I suppose you could compare the two with the shape of the artificial structure but as far as story goes I don’t know what Ringworld’s plot is.23 December 2014 at 11:55 #36330Juniperfish @juniperfish
Well, there isn’t a Radio thread. Do we need one @craig ?
Wondering if anyone else has been listening to R4’s adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens?
The first and second episodes are on iplayer and the third episode is on tonight.
Lots of fun so far (I am only on ep one at the moment). Peter Serafinowicz makes a very good Crowley.25 December 2014 at 23:44 #36388PhaseShift @phaseshiftTime Lord
I’ve managed to catch up on the first three today while cooking, doing chores, playing with lego and really enjoyed them. I’m so pleased.
I think one of the problems with adapting Pratchett’s work is that the narrative jokes are often lost, and the script for this one has been sharp and adapted well to include some gems. Heap and Serafinowicz are great as the friendly agents of heaven and hell, but the cast is just excellent.
I thought a lovely inclusion was Simon Jones as Adam’s dad. So funny to hear the dulcet tones of Arthur Dent demanding a cup of tea, this time from a satanic nun. 😀25 December 2014 at 23:58 #36389Juniperfish @juniperfish
@phaseshift Merry Chrimbo – I’m just listening to the fourth episode now.
The loucheness of Gaiman and the humour of Pratchett are a great combination.
Agnes Nutter must be a tribute to Alice Nutter.
And, as usual, the angels are always sneakier than the demons 🙂6 February 2015 at 11:07 #37839
Agree totally about Chabon. He’s a brilliant writer — possibly one of the best English-language novelists around today but he does need an editor on occasion. Wonder Boys, the book, would be perfect without the Passover stuff which goes on too long and almost kills the book’s screwball, road-trip momentum. Steve Kloves saw that and that’s why he essentially excised it from the screenplay. Similarly Kavalier and Klay trundles to a halt — and at the most pivotal point in the narrative — for an extended and ill-fitting sojourn in the Arctic.
Having said that, sometimes his digressions are awesome. I always feel slightly uncomfortable about Telegraph Avenue – a sprawling take on black American culture — taking in the civil rights movement, the blues and Motown, the Black Panthers, Blaxploitation, the rise of the OJ-style sporting superstar — all written by a white, Jewish bloke. But all the same the extended passage — really just one really, really long sentence — describing the flight of Cochise Jones’s parrot is just amazing.7 February 2015 at 04:28 #37857Anonymous @
It’s difficult to find a writer comparable to Chabon -although possibly Matthew Pearl with his long interludes is the least self-conscious one I’ve come across. It’s probably why I haven’t read much SciFi or Fantasy -It worries me 🙂7 February 2015 at 10:04 #37864
@purofilion — To be honest, I haven’t read that much SF/fantasy since my 20s either. I find that while the ideas often brilliant, the lack of work put into characterisation and style is often off-putting. Mind you, the same is increasingly true of mainstream fiction in the UK of late. It certainly seems to me that for the past 20-odd years, it’s America that’s produced all the best novelists by a country mile. Our most lauded — Mantel, Faulkes, Barnes, McEwan, Boyd, etc — they come nowhere near the likes of Chabon, Franzen, Meg Wollitzer, Foster Wallace or Richard Powers. I can’t think what the reason might be except that US publishers might be more discerning or that the US university system is far better designed for producing creative writers.
With regards to Chabon’s influences, it’s tricky as I don’t think they’re really obvious. I think there’s a bit of Updike and Roth in there but I think there’s a far more eclectic pop-cultural mix there too — everything from comic books, to Hollywood screwball comedy to pulp detective fiction to Conan Doyle.7 February 2015 at 11:39 #37867Anonymous @
ah yes, David Foster Wallace-and the Infinite Jest?
And Corrections? I think that’s it by Franzen? It’s reminiscent of O. W. Holmes -a nineteenth century style of tough-schooled writers. Richard Powers -now that’s a name I haven’t thought of in ages. Absolutely ages!
I would think that Mantel is still a favourite? Certainly, whilst Wolf Hall wasn’t to everyone’s tastes, her (virtual) autobiography is a bucolic close-up of the rich and confused interior of a young girl’s mind wrestling with intellect amidst bitter poverty. It’s stark and deft -and yes, the title of the book’s escaped me!
I do like tart, kaleidoscopic, short pieces baked to perfection -like the novels of Anita Brookner -but even she admits that “one is out of one’s depth with today’s expectations.”
The university system -very expensive but creatively generous? I think Ole Miss has such a reputation -Richard North Patterson, whilst not an outstanding writer (I think he started as a lawyer) owes some of his more ‘creative touches’ to mentors from The Miss as do Ivan Nabokov and Robert Ford.
A long time ago, I know, but I was introduced at a young age to David Lodge -Small World and also his non-fiction, particularly Working With Structuralism (and The Novelist at the Crossroads) which suggest exactly where the English Work of Fiction (in his opinion) went a “little bit wonky.”7 February 2015 at 15:52 #37882
@purofilion — Infinite Jest is a bit (actually more than a bit) on the tricksy side but it’s got some of the most breath-taking prose of the last 20-odd years in there too. Foster Wallace’s short stories are pretty good too and probably the best way to read him. His prose is pretty dense and best taken in small, contained doses.
Richard Powers can be a bit patch but when he’s good, he’s brilliant. My favourite I think is Galatea 2.2. Some big questions about AI and free will and the power of literature being asked in there but still a great read.
Most recently I’ve really enjoyed The Interestings by Meg Wollitzer, which I actually found quite Franzen-esque, especially when exploring the issues of what happens when you don’t fulfill your early creative promise, especially when your friends do.
I’ve read a couple of Lodge’s critical works which I remember finding useful at the time – liked Consciousness and the Novel – and also enjoyed Thinks. But again, pales slightly when compared to the equivalent campus novels coming out of the US at the same time.7 February 2015 at 22:40 #37886Anonymous @
@jimthefish This is an interesting discussion -some of these American writers have written perhaps 3,4 or 5 novels or groups of short stories and yet are happily heralded -the one good book idea -which I’m for.
But it reminded me of a theory I had (which others have I’m sure) of how a vast unimpeded landscape -endlessly large (though it may only seem that way) effects writing; in both musical composition and the written word. When I think of Russia’s flat lands and large open spaces I think of Tolstoy and the Russian musicians with arcing symphonies and tremendous breadth and depth to their vision.
I feel the same about America: a place I spent time in. The unusual land spaces -contradictory and huge, do not contain their writers but give them space and creativity in which to ‘move’. Whether it’s the quaint Maine/Vermont areas, the bustling size of NY, or the grey, dismal (but still eerie and beautiful) Appalachians, the writer of prose or music has room to explore. Further East with Colorado and Utah there’s sparseness to the “archetype” of desert but canyons and jutting rocks act as illustration providing a canvas partly coloured in- edging the writer closer to prowess.
Now, I’m not suggesting the UK lacks such distraction -you have the Moors after all which, in Bronte’s novel, contains the best love scene ever written (imho) between Catherine and Heathcliff but is it still sufficient today? Does it ‘act’ within the writer? I recall Mantel discussing the ‘awful new estates’ of the 1980s and 90s; small and prefabricated “like her publishers,” and I wonder.
I’m proud to have read some Powers -it was a book club choice and at first, I was a bit horrified (read nervous), then taken in. It’s about the characters -and their interactions. It’s always about people, in the end. It’s why Chabon’s characters fairly jump off the page with their vigour -they’re rich & full of life, not cardboard cut-outs. On the other thread we had a mention of Twilight by @pedant and how it was ‘spawned’ (what a great word). I’ll never get how it was published. But, ssh, let’s not spoil things (actually those women on The View thought Stephanie Myers-whateverhernameis should be President. Oh Yesss).8 February 2015 at 18:39 #37899
@purofilion — Oh Godddddd. The idea of Stephanie Myers for *anything* makes my stomach churn. The Idiocracy has spoken, and now nobody can shut it up . . .
As for the importance of place, landscape, and breathing room, yes, I’ve felt this. Wearing my writer’s hat for a minute, let me say that as someone born and raised in Manhattan and writing stories and comics (self illustrated; I liked drawing horses), I started writing moody, thriller-ish fiction set in the streets and alleyways I knew as a kid. It was all pretty derivative, which is typical of beginners, nothing special, and when I went off to Nigeria to teach for a couple of years, I was writing a Western.
But the landscape of Nigeria just blew me right out of my socks. I was lucky, got sent to the interior of the Western Region, which is high, dry plateau country, volcanic rock and red, red earth. When I got home again, I literally could not get comfortable in New York: no space, no sky, too many pinched, pasty faces — just NO, not any more. When I could, I escaped to the Southwest — space! Sky! Darker-skinned people, even “Anglos” like me due to the strength of the sun here.
I can’t say that I started to write here; I’d been writing for years. But this place opened up the creative seam that I mined for four books, a futuristic, feminist epic-thing, that it took 25 yrs + to complete. And that vampire book — that project began as a single story, set back east, but when did a driving tour of the Painted Desert and the Canyonlands north and west of us, I was looking down from a canyon rim at a red rock spire called “Spider Rock” and thought, “This landscape is laid open by erosion for us to look at and see deeply into the geologic past; I want to bring my vampire out here — an ancient creature in an ancient landscape — and see what happens.” That whole book became about getting W out here and cutting him loose.
And yes, of course it’s all about music too — it’s not an accident that part of the cutting loose process is a night at the Santa Fe Opera, Puccini under the stars of this huge, high sky, not music from here, but music brought here and also cut loose.
And, to go back to the beginning, I suppose it’s worth noting that Stephanie Myers was clearly inspired by the dim and misty landscape of the Pacific Northwest . . . though I’m at a loss regarding any musical vein in her awful books.8 February 2015 at 19:07 #37902
@purofilion — I used to have a friend who would argue that the UK was at a literary disadvantage because of its topography. There are no wide open places. No wildernesses. And therefore you’d never get anything epic. No Kerouacian picaresques and so on. I used to disagree but am beginning to concede that he may at least have a partial point.8 February 2015 at 19:28 #37903
a Facebook blog about creative ways to display our book collections8 February 2015 at 20:49 #37904Anonymous @
@jimthefish as I can’t read the Whedon book yet, I shall purchase some Wollitzer on kindle. I also have an “intro to reading sci-fi” -well, that’s what I’m gonna call it.8 February 2015 at 22:54 #37905Craig @craigEmperor
@jimthefish As a corollary to that, I think it was Stephen Frears who said the reason we didn’t have any great cop movies was because our policemen all wore stupid looking helmets.9 February 2015 at 02:17 #37907
I am a unapologetic ‘voyeur’ of other peoples conversations and lectures and discussions
about authors and their books. It helps me to become a better reader. I follow “Story time
in the Library’ which is a regular UC Berkeley event. I went back to find this 17 March 2015 at 23:07 #38596
@lisa — I’ve only now just realised that you’ve posted this Chabon piece. Thanks for that. Very interesting indeed.
@craig, @scaryb @ anyone else interested in Scottish literature — there’s a great little documentary about the mighty William McIlvanney available on iPlayer at the moment. It’s well worth checking out. Left me feeling a bit teary but the guy’s always been something of a hero of mine.9 March 2015 at 00:38 #38631ScaryB @scaryb
Agree with you 110% re William McIlvanney. Can’t believe his books were out of print at all, never mind for as long as they were. Docherty in particular is a classic. Great wee documentary, and me too re a bit teary. The chat with Ian Rankine in particular is just lovely.
For anyone who wants to check it out, it’s still on iplayer for most of the month – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b053q3pf (a scant 30 mins).
Further to the out of print observation, and your comment a while back (on TV thread I think), you are also spot on when you mentioned re not enough opportunities for young TV writers to experiment, make mistakes and hone their craft these days. Can you imagine Boys From the Black Stuff being commissioned now? Or even Cracker… ? I doubt even Doctor Who would have much chance without a fully fleshed out back story for our hero!12 March 2015 at 15:29 #38710Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip
Sadly, Sir Terry Pratchett has died.
A writer who gave me a great deal of joy over the years.12 March 2015 at 17:48 #38714
@bluesqueakpip — very sad news.
@scaryb — yeah, I like that Rankin is pretty up-front about just how much of an influence Laidlaw is in Rebus. And for my money, Strange Loyalties is McIlvanney’s best book. Starts of looking like a detective novel then sneakily takes you into all kinds of more literary places.
Yeah, I don’t think Blackstuff would have a hope in hell these days. Commissioning Eds think they’re ‘being political’ when they do conspiracy thrillers or dystopian ‘what ifs’ but they’re really not. If you tried to pitch something about homelessness, or food banks, or redundancy these days you’d get absolutely nowhere. And they certainly wouldn’t make Cracker in its original form now. They’d push to make Fitz a lot more sympathetic and probably a lot better-looking too. And you’d be unlikely to get a character like Jimmy Beck or Robert Carlyle’s Albie these days.12 March 2015 at 20:45 #38716
@bluesqueakpip — Hell. I am trying to think about the conversation Terry has been having with Death on the plain of after-life, no doubt both enjoying some leisurely reminiscence and wise-cracking . . . but also, just hell, hell, hell . . .5 April 2015 at 12:49 #39436Stormaggeddon @stormy72
First entry in this tread.
I enjoyed reading Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and its sequell Hollow City.
It was a spur-of-the-moment buy, I was surprised by the pictures and the storyline.
Young Jacob finds that the stories his grandfather told him about timetravel and gifted children to be true. He follows the clues and finds the time loop in which these children found shelter from the outside world. Here he gets to know Emma, a girl who can control fire, and falls in love with her (as it seems like his grandfather before).
The storyline follows a series of ancient photographies collected by the author, who depict the name giving peculiar children and their abilities.
The books are told in a fast pace, with fresh ideas, very phantastic ideas and good characters. As every good book does, I regreted every time I had to lay it down (a pity the way to work isn’t longer).12 May 2015 at 19:13 #40094
Got a good one — I’m reading “H is for Hawk” by Helen MacDonald, and it’s every bit as brilliantly written and absorbing to read as promised in reviews. There’s a nice tangential tie in with the Doctor (besides the fact that the novel is fantasy) — running commentary on T.H White (as a falconer), whose Merlin, in the fantasy novel “The Sword in the Stone”, is a sort of Doctor-figure to the boy Wart. I am reading slowly; it’s that good.1 June 2015 at 19:34 #40460DenValdron @denvaldron
@ichabod Watched the first season of Penny Dreadful, loved it. Vanessa is a compelling character.
@purofilion You might try Roger Zelazny’s ‘Lord of the Light.’ It’s an amazing novel, and I don’t believe that it ages. Zelazny had a gift for dialogue. The mixture of sci fi and hindu mythology is … I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it since. I’d also suggest ‘A Billion Days of Earth’ by Doris Piserchia.
For the early stuff… You might try some of H.G. Wells. For my tastes: ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau.’
And for another perspective, Burroughs ‘Princess of Mars.’ – Burroughs fell out of fashion, but Burroughs examination of his Martians and their lives and inner lives is damned near Napolean Chagnon in space. It’s both anthropological and sympathetic. It’s telling that when his Martians are criticized, it’s not the white man telling them what’s wrong with them, but the martians themselves going ‘you know, we’re this way, and it works for us, but it kind of sucks too.’14 July 2015 at 12:58 #41190sweetyarora2111 @sweetyarora2111
great15 July 2015 at 04:48 #41204
@denvaldron Yes, “Lord of Light” is wonderful, and was a huge hit at the time. I don’t think I ever read Piserchia, or that particular book of hers, anyway — good reminder, thanks. We have a good SF used bookstore in town, and I should be able to lay hands on a copy. To tell the truth, I never read much Burroughs except a couple of Tarzan books (to compare them to a series called, ah, “Bomba the Jungle Boy”. Bombe doesn’t appear to have held up all that well, but at the time . . . The thing about “White man on exotic planet” that draws the most objections that I’ve seen is that weird thing where the white stranger comes among the tribes, whatever they are, and within a week he’s better at, say, Indian skills (hunting Xs, shooting arrows, etc.) than all the Indians are, who grew up learning the skills of their culture. I don’t know how Burroughs’ Mars books stack up in that respect.15 July 2015 at 04:54 #41206Anonymous @
Ah thank you for those suggestions. I’ve responded very late, I realise and I apologise. For a while, much of my tagged Who stuff ended up in my Junk Mail for some inexplicable reason.
Yes I’ve read quite a bit of Burroughs -a resurgence happened in Oz some while ago, possibly a telly book club host or some such.
Kindest, puro.15 July 2015 at 05:47 #41207DenValdron @denvaldron
@ichabod It’s entirely possible to take something quite good and make it sound completely idiotic and regressive by boiling it down and rendering it as a clichéd or regressive premise. Nothing really survives that treatment.
Certainly the whole notion of ‘Mighty Whitey’ is a rather jingoistic and juvenile fantasy that was really popular for a long long time and doesn’t stand up terribly well these days, not least because a lot of it was wretched and horrifically regressive.
On the other hand, one of the greatest English language writers was Joseph Conrad, a polish man. Another great English language writer, V.S. Naipal is an East Indian. Napolean was not French, but an Italian Corsican. Hitler was not a german, but an Austrian. Othello was a Moore. And America’s most famous Scientist, Einstein, was a European. Good, Bad and Fictional, it happens. Historically, and in literature, there’s a very very very long tradition of the “Outsider” who enters a society, culture, milieu, organization, and despite being an alien, excels and succeeds.
In folklore and fiction, its easy enough to assume it’s simply a masturbatory fantasy. But there’s enough real life examples that it cannot be dismissed. If I had to speculate, I would suggest that the social networks which bind and support us in society also restrict, we’re plugged into all these networks and mostly that’s a good thing, but the process and act of being plugged in brings responsibilities, offers limitations, distractions, diversions, it multiplies and divides or priorities. The Outsider, by being socially somewhat more disconnected may have viewer limitations or distractions, may be more driven, more opportunistic, they may simply be required or motivated to work harder, and their energy may be much more narrowly focused. Just a thought.
There is also, in literature, or real life the ‘adopted’ – a person who literally joins an alien or foreign culture, willingly or unwillingly. They leave their old life behind, and they become the other. White children raised by Indians was a popular subgenre at one time. Among the British, they had a term ‘going native’ for Company men living in China or India. Sometimes it was a fantasy/reality – Gauguin abandoning civilization to live in Polynesia. We have the old example of Gray Owl, and the more recent and now politically incorrect example of that blonde woman who so identified with blacks that she started claiming to be one.
So, basically, all I’m saying is that just because we can reduce something to something stupid, doesn’t necessarily mean its worthless. Those of cynical bent can reduce anything to something stupid.
Now, on the subject of Burroughs… Hmmm. I suppose I came to it at an impressionable age. Sometimes we just love stuff because it came along at the right time in our life, and that’s that. That right time can be teens for Burroughs, twenties for the Rolling Stones, or fifties for TS Elliot. It can be irregardless of the merit of the thing itself, and even merit can be arguable. Are the Rolling Stones lyrics shallow and moronic, is TS Elliot a whiny depressive who needs to get out more? There are people who swear by Atlas Shrugged, who embrace it as a profound, life changing, life defining work – to which I say “Ick!” But hard to say.
So is Burroughs stupid and trite? Well, I don’t think so. I can see some of that ‘Mighty Whitey’ shtick in a lot of his work. But if you look at his ‘Carson of Venus’ novels, he’s literally parodying that shtick – his Carson is stunningly inept, the only thing the guy really has is persistence, and my god, don’t ask him for directions.
Tarzan is arguably a ‘Mighty Whitey’, but really, he’s a feral child – psychologically, he’s a great ape, and while he can pretend to be an English lord… who he really is, where he really is, is a jungle creature. Mind you, Tarzan went well over 20 novels, and there’s a huge gulf between the worst and the best. I’d still think that that the best Tarzan novels, the handful of seminal ones really do stand the test.
Whatever Tarzan was, he hit some sort of cultural Zeitgeist. Bomba the Jungle Boy was a direct offshoot of Tarzan (a bit of Mowgli, but mostly Tarzan). As was Jan of the Jungle, Ki-Gor, Ka-Zar, Shanna, Sheena and about fifty imitators. Even Mowgli, the immediate predecessor, borrowed from Tarzan when Disney got into it – there’s a lot more Burroughs and Kipling.
Whatever that Zeitgeist was, it mostly passed away. Like Westerns and Pirate Stories and Aviator Stories, the Jungle hero is a thing of the past, perhaps the ‘Mighty Whitey’ story is gone or going. But I don’t necessarily think that the passing of a genre invalidates the best stories which might have had the misfortune of being set in that genre.
If we take a look at possible example of Mighty Whitey – Princess of Mars… Superfically, that’s what its like. John Carter ends up on Mars, ends up a prisoner among Tharks, and rises to a Chieftain among them. In particular, his horsemanship seems to work better than that of his fellow Tharks. He’s gifted with superhuman strength by virtue of being from Earth, and he eventually becomes the greatest swordsman in that world and a prince of the greatest empire. So, superficially, it’s a pretty shallow power fantasy and exactly what you have reduced it to.
But is it? Because on the one hand, it does some very different things. At heart, its a romance. At heart, all of Burroughs novels were romances, mostly in adventure clothing, but romances through and through. That was what really distinguished him from his imitators and most other pulp writers. The thing with Princess of Mars, is that the minute John Carter sees Dejah Thoris, he’s smitten. Love at first sight. His entire life tilts its axis and nothing is ever the same again for him. It’s not just that she’s a babe – she makes a passionate speech to the Tharks, she’s got fire and intelligence, and even though they mock it, he gets it. The entire rest of the novel is about that spark catching on, the relationship building to the point where he repudiates his adopted society of Tharks, to the point where she challenges the social bonds that tie her down, where it comes down to two people who love and need each other so badly that they’ll set themselves against the entire world, where every moment they have is literally stolen, and losing each other forever is no more than a page away. I don’t think that has anything to do with Mighty Whitey. But I think it’s powerful and impressive, and that there’s a genuine emotional core that drives the book.
The other thing I like about Burroughs and particularly about Princess is that his monsters are seldom monsters. The Tharks are typical bug eyed monsters. Six limbs, bug eyed, ears on stalks, walking stick insect thin, green skinned, hatched from eggs, thinking only about martial prowess. It would be so easy to just toss them up as horrific monsters or alien creatures and not go any further. H.G. Wells with his Morlocks and Martians didn’t bother going any further than that.
But Burroughs, when he talks about the Tharks, when Jon Carter is among them, goes into anthropological levels of detail. He examines every part of their lives, the relationships between the sexes, their approach to child rearing, the organization of their society, their philosophy, he makes them real and interesting. He makes them, some of them likeable, and even the ones we don’t like, the ones who just show up for a few scenes to do something dickish, he makes them people.
And most interestingly, when he criticizes them, its not an outsider criticizing them in the novel. It’s not a red martian saying it, or the omniscient narrater, or even John Carter. It’s presented as the Tharks criticizing themselves. It’s Tars Tarkas, coming to grips with some of the costs and emotional pain of his way of life, stopping and saying “You know, John Carter, we kind of suck. There’s downsides to our way of life, and I kind of wish there weren’t. That maybe we did, or should do some things differently”
Just some thoughts.15 July 2015 at 07:04 #41208
@denvaldron Oh, yes, there are real-life examples of the outsider succeeding in a new cultural environment. How often in reality is the outsider-success a success specifically in the skills (previously unknown to him) of the culture he has joined? If he succeeds *by virtue of* his position of marginality in his new culture (or, upon return “home”, his old culture (cultural marginalization being a situation I’m familiar with from having been in it, after returning from teaching school in West Africa 1961-62), that makes sense. From an “outsider” position, it is possible to see elements of the culture you’re inhabiting very differently than the native inhabitants do, and to derive from that “foreignness” of viewpoint ideas and insights of use to the culture you have entered. That is in fact what Conrad did with “Heart of Darkness” — he drew on experiences of his own in West Africa to write about what kinds of impacts white colonialism was having, telling Europeans things they really did not wish to know — but needed to know — after he’d come home. He didn’t invent a new and better way of cooking pounded yam and “teach” the natives how to cook their own food better. Mind you, European doctors *did*, while I was in Nigeria, introduce the idea of *not* stuffing cooked pounded yam down your infant’s throat with your thumb, which I saw Nigerian mothers do while I was there, and that probably was helpful.
The whole cross-cultural phenomenon is incredibly complicated; I went into that situation, as a white girl in her early twenties, having been told beforehand (during our training) that in the experience of USAID and other NGO’s, even as little as two years’ exposure as a person specifically charged with being helpful in our foreign surroundings would leave us permanently marginalized not just in Nigerian cultures, but in our own when we got home. I certainly found that to be true for myself; I know at least one other who came home and snapped back into an even more rigidly Right wing set of US attitudes than she’d come to Africa with, but that’s an effect, too — a rejection of marginalization.
But to return to the topic — White kids kidnapped and raised by Indians were often rescued and sent into Christian schools where they were forcibly re-Europeanized; a number of them escaped and tried to return to their Indian homes, finding White Christian culture constraining, dishonest, and cruel, compared to Indian societies more open and relaxed about the raising of children. Indian kids kidnapped and raised in White homes have left few records, but what I’ve seen suggests inability to “fit in” and general misery, often resulting in a fall-back to alcoholism. None of either type became, so far as I know, distinguished contributors to either their birth cultures or their kidnap cultures. Actually, the best film I know giving realistic take on the White kid adopted by Indians is “Little Big Man”; highly recommended.
So I’m not slamming the whole sub-genres of “adoption” or adventure stories across cultures, just pointing out that to POC friends of mine in the SF community, there are objections based on a lot of what I think could be called “colonialist” SF — that valorizes the White guy as superior to the “natives”, no matter how much he loves them. There’s also a wonderful story by — Chad Oliver, I think (he was a professional anthropologist) in which a human explorer crashes on a paradise planet and lives among its people (no other humans arriving in the time frame of the story) until he dies a respected citizen among citizens. He has earned that respect, not by being a better farmer or hunter or fisherman etc. than the native farmers, hunters, etc. are, but by leaving the native people with a carefully drawn up document claiming full title to and control over their own planet against all outsider claims, on the basis of which the native people (when men do come, looking for resources) the locals apply to the Council of Worlds (or whatever) as a perfectly normal planet with its own civilization and rights to self determination, and win that status. I offer this as an alternative to the usual Mighty Whitey tropes you mention, and a way of telling that story that makes it *not* worthless. IOW, I’m agreeing with you. Cases vary. But Mighty Whitey still predominates, economically, in our modern world.
I didn’t say Burroughs was stupid and trite, did I? I didn’t intend to sum those books up only in terms of their currently questionable assumptions, particularly since I didn’t read most of them. I did love the Tarzan books, though I never got into the Mars books. I loved A. Merritt, too, who held the racial attitudes prevalent in his time, and Lovecraft, and John Buchan. Those were wonderfully entertaining books; they still are, but modern readers are going to stumble over outworn attitudes expressed in them. Leigh Brackett, I think, wrote some good Mighty Whitey space adventures, too. And as I recall, the most of what was written in that vein for adult readers was about just the sort of romance you speak of, which is a version of the European romance of unlikes, that fascinating gap of “unequal” individuals who find themselves drawn together by their higher qualities and personal attraction (Jane and Mr. Rochester? “Twilight”? Come to think of it, the Doctor and Clara — ?).
What’s new is that having managed to attract POC into SF as writers and fans, us old Whiteys are finding it both shocking and very useful to listen to what *they* have to say about the Golden Age of SF and its development into the modern. This doesn’t invalidate the virtues of older stories with attitudes we’re still struggling to shed as a culture, but it does the useful job of pointing out where those stories date themselves by outdated and harmful assumptions about race, about gender, about culture and religion, etc.
What Nnedi Okorafor or Owl Going Back would say about “Princess of Mars” I don’t know, but if they had read it, I suspect (based on related comments from them and their cohort of POC in SF) they’d have very different impressions of it than you or I would (I haven’t read it myself, but what you say about it does interest me in doing so). Like so many people on so many levels, I’ve been a “marginal man” in many ways for many years, seeing most things from more than the default settings of he culture I grew up in. Saying that I can see negative patterns in a work doesn’t equate with not being able to see, and value, its positive ones — in a balance that changes as my awareness grows (well, I hope it does, until age starts to shrink it).15 July 2015 at 10:15 #41210Anonymous @
“but by leaving the native people with a carefully drawn up document claiming full title to and control over their own planet against all outsider claims, on the basis of which the native people (when men do come, looking for resources) the locals apply to the Council of Worlds (or whatever) as a perfectly normal planet “
Problem is, native title isn’t land rights -as the Indigenous of Northern QLD have found out When men come looking for resources, these native people apply to a Council but within several hundred hectares, there are 9 separate dialects and cultures. They are as apart or distinct as the several white cultures -if not further apart.
A thought.15 July 2015 at 18:11 #41215
@purofilion Oh, I’m reaching back to a 30-year-old memory, and the story was set far in the future, so I just used shorthand here. Thinking back, I recall that the human visitor spent half a lifetime there, encouraging the documented development of whatever formal sort of governmental bodies that that time required for recognition by the Federation (or whatever) as a member world whose peoples have sovereignty over their world. It might have been called something like “Beach Front Property” . . .16 July 2015 at 00:58 #41223
Not sci-fi but equally good stuff here – A reading by Mary Badham who played Scout in
‘To Kill a Mockingbird” from the new Harper Lee novel that just came out ‘Go Set a Watchman’
There is a question period after the reading which was delightful! There were some great
questions and terrific recollections.
I haven’t acquired this book yet but I will.7 August 2015 at 17:35 #41626The Krynoid Man @thekrynoidman
By the way @craig, I just finished reading Dark Knight Returns and your right, it is excellent. Do you have any recommendations for other Batman graphic novels?13 September 2015 at 06:58 #42589
@purofilion @mudlark I took Puro’s advice and moved this reply here, lest we all get modded. This same concern about critics (which of course is the problem in a nutshell with the Jones “review” of Terry Pratchett) applies equally to film and music critics. The problem is that a big part of what we enjoy is dictated by taste, and it can’t be possible to review anything for a popular audience without being influenced by that. Obviously some things are better crafted than others, but why (for instance) compare Pratchett to Austen when they are generically entirely different? Why set a critic to review the new Bond when he or she doesn’t care for action films? I have read reviews of concerts where the writer clearly didn’t even like the band. The tone is always one of “Well, I thought it sucked but clearly the people around me didn’t agree.” How is that useful to anyone?
Fiction is particularly challenging in this because it is so hard to get a sense of a book without actually reading it. So we rely much more on critics than we would with films, where we often base our decisions on preview clips and our previous experiences. But when you think about it, choosing a book entirely based on a book review would be as chancy as deciding to watch a Doctor Who episode based on the comments section in the Guardian! 🙂 Seriously, I guess the more reviews you read, the better, kind of like looking at Trip Adviser.13 September 2015 at 13:02 #42600Anonymous @
I agree: the issue now is that everyone is really a critic. There are still the marble critics (those so high and mighty and respected they “shit marble” as Mozart said in Amadeus) and those on certain telly channels who do the book reviews once a week: but they seem to be a bit dazzling and affect a type of handle: one with a flower behind her ear, another wearing different shirts with various pen shapes on them etc… It’s a circus really. Then there are the ‘serious’ reviews in the Washington Post etc and the Cambridge Review but everyone else seems to do a Blog and others comment, and off the train goes.
I don’t think it ever arrives, the destination is some infinite place….13 September 2015 at 16:35 #42605
In reading through my last post just now I spotted a slip which I failed to pick up yesterday evening when I read it through before hitting Submit. ‘ because an artist does speak to you personally is no reason to dismiss him or her …’ should, of course, read ‘ because an artist does not speak to you personally is no reason to dismiss his or her work as trivial.’ You probably understood what I meant anyway, but I feel bound to mention it.
puro The critic on the New Yorker I referred to was James Wood. I had no quarrel with his review as a whole since, although his verdict was on balance unfavourable, he discussed the novel at considerable length and in a relatively even handed way. If I had read the review before buying the novel I would have concluded nevertheless that it was something which I wanted to read. The only thing which jarred was the part I mentioned – his opinion that the ‘voices’ of the different narrators were virtually indistinguishable, an opinion which seemed to be based solely on the fact that the narrators are all highly articulate and, to a greater or lesser extent, display a facility with vivid, arresting and sometimes witty similes and turns of phrase.
Other reviewers seem to think as I do, though. Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times refers to Mitchell’s ‘ventriloquist’s ability to channel the voices of myriad characters from different time zones and cultures; his intuitive understand of children … and his ear for language’; and Pico Iyer, also in the New York Times Sunday Review describes him as ‘ famous for his gift for channelling voices’.
Most reviewers seem to have found the fifth section, in which the metaphysical and paranormal elements of the plot come to the fore, to be the weakest part, although there are at least traces of such elements in most of Mitchell’s writing and it is not something I have any problem with. according to Joe Lloyd in Culture Whisper Magazine, his earliest influences were Ursula le Guin, Susan Cooper and Isaac Asimov, which makes sense (and, for the record, Ursula le Guin reviewed the novel for the Guardian).
In the Sydney Review of Books Julian Novitz discusses The Bone Clocks in relation to all of Mitchell’s previous novels. Each is a stand-alone work, but the reappearance of characters from one to another creates loose inter-textual links. Mitchell himself has written that ‘Each of my novels is a single chapter in a larger volume that I’ll keep working on until I die. If I were to choose a title for that volume, I would call it The Uberbook’. Novitz suggests a similarity between this approach and box sets and cross-over Ties.
The Bone Clocks is a fairly hefty work – 620 pages – but for those of you who have no patience with long novels, this might be mitigated by its subdivision into a sequence of relatively short novellas. Personally, if I am enjoying reading a book, then the longer the better, whether I binge read or tackle it in short snatches, a chapter or two at a time.13 September 2015 at 16:45 #42606
My computer glitched before I was able to edit the above. The second to last paragraph should read:
In the Sydney Review of Books Julian Novitz discusses The Bone Clocks in relation to all of Mitchell’s previous novels. Each is a stand-alone work, but the reappearance of characters from one to another, creates loose inter-textual links. Novitz suggests a similarity between this approach and box sets and cross-over TV series.13 September 2015 at 17:36 #42608
On the subject of critics in general, I tend not to read reviews of fiction unless, as in the case of The Bone Clocks, it is after I have read the book, out of curiosity to see what others have made of it. I tend to choose on the basis of recommendations by family or friends, or because I have liked previous works by that author, or simply by browsing in book shops and reading a few pages of anything that looks interesting. No doubt I miss out on novels that I would enjoy, but life is too short to investigate even a fraction of all that is published.
@ichabod @arbutus @purofilion To revert to another point under discussion, yes indeed; without challenges, tension, conflict and some kind of resolution there is no story. Just preserve me from the tendency in some quarters (film and television in particular) to pander to some peoples’ desire for a saccharine happy ending. Give me bitter-sweet or ambiguity every time, or even an unhappy ending if that is more consistent with the preceding narrative.
On the subject of fictional utopias, Arbutus and ichabod mentioned Ursula le Guin’s ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’ but I was reminded even more of her novel ‘The Dispossessed’, featuring idealists who have left their planet of origin to establish their idea of utopia in the form of an anarcho-communist society. The flaw in this utopia, more subtle and more human than the horror at the heart of Omelas, is the pressure within a completely egalitarian society to conform, manifest in the tall poppy syndrome which threatens to stifle the genius of the central character, Shevek.13 September 2015 at 19:06 #42613
@mudlark The Bone Clocks Sounds fascinating. I will have to look into it. I don’t mind a really long book as if I am loving something, I never really want it to end!
I do love The Dispossessed, it’s possibly my favourite LeGuin novel. You’re right that it expresses the same theme in a fully realized, “realistic” story, while Omelas is a parable. (I have heard remarks in which people find Omelas frustrating because it “doesn’t make sense”. They want more details. They want a story instead of a metaphor, and thus completely miss the point.) The anarchist society in The Dispossessed is lovingly, believably portrayed, but the flaws in the system are hinted at almost from the beginning. In the end, though, it’s that system to which Shevek returns, deeming it worthy of fighting for.
I will admit to liking a happy ending best, but as you say, only in a story that is designed for one. Some stories really shouldn’t end happily, and it never feels satisfying when they do.13 September 2015 at 19:41 #42614
@purofilion Sometimes I amuse myself looking at the reader reviews on Amazon. Many of the reviewers are intensely frustrating, as their non-understanding of basic subject-predicate-object grammar, not to mention punctuation, renders them unfit in my view to criticize anyone’s writing, no matter how poor the book, that was actually coherent enough to be published. But often, it’s interesting, because here you see people saying, “If you enjoyed this writer’s other work, you will love this,” or likewise, “I love this writer, but this one really disappointed.” This is obviously not deep criticism, at least not always, but there is definitely a place for it, if you recognize it for what it is.13 September 2015 at 19:58 #42615
@mudlark “The pressure to conform” does show up as a problem with even our current examples of at least *trying* to be a Utopia, meaning Scandinavian countries. If you read mystery novels from up there . . . also, of course, the failure to achieve this sort of “leveling”, since crime novels show you the elements of failure, exploitation, reactionary destructiveness, etc. as the faults in which crime grows and from which the push-back against utopian policies come.13 September 2015 at 23:21 #42626Anonymous @
All fantastic discussions.
On Scandinavian writing: similar to its music there’s a huge, vast sense of openness in phrase, object, style, stance and characterisation. For me, that is. Whilst I enjoy the music I find some recent novels difficult. It says a lot about me and not much of it good!
I read The Dispossessed earlier this year. It appeared on a list of books I could start with by one @pedant.
Arbut: Amazon reviewers: an oxymoron surely? 🙂 Although I’m not speaking of The Amazon.14 September 2015 at 01:26 #42632
@purofilion Sibelius! — I lived that music as a kid (I mean, a pre-pubescent kid), via my own little tinny-voiced phonograph in my room. Sibelius was what I found (and Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Brahms, some Tchaikovsky, and others) that helped me to hang onto my own dark tones while the grown-up around me were all telling me that I was a happy little girl, so why wasn’t I smiling all the time? Love the angry and woeful Romantics? Damn straight: they saved my sanity. They kept me true.14 September 2015 at 03:23 #42636Anonymous @
Ah yes the Romantics. Whilst not a fan of the Romantic era of pianistic virtuosity I always hankered for Rachmaninoff and Brahms. I was a surly teenager auditioning for various music schools and unis and playing Brahms. My teacher, a lovely gentle lady admitted that as I “hadn’t experienced a broken heart” I would need to “pretend this in order to successfully convince the panellists when it comes to Brahms.”
For me, though, a lovely composer residing in NYC, was Mompou. Not a romantic, but a twentieth century composer, and a darling man who kept sane despite the madness around him. He channelled all the “nuttiness” of American politics, pressure groups vying for attention and arrogant conservatism into his short and diverse piano works.
I should find a piece and pop it on the correct thread.14 September 2015 at 04:48 #42640
@purofilion By all means, please do — I’ve heard this composer’s name, but somehow associated him with 17th c France; odd.
Re your teacher’s comment, though, I think a lot of young kids have experienced a broken heart, just not in a romantic context (yet). I’ve seen recent research concluding that young people, right up through their late twenties, are still adding layers of “insulation” to the axons in their brains and so are still literally wired to *feel* stimuli and emotional responses with a power and immediacy that’s lost later in life. This was in the context of trying to figure out why young people do idiotically risky and potential life-threatening things that they *know* perfectly well are exactly that. The idea is that because of their extra-sharp receptivity, risky behavior can be overwhelmingly attractive to them even though rationally they *know* it’s deeply stupid to steer only with their knees at 90 mph, or swim in the irrigation ditch in storm season, etc. I think the traumas of childhood can be as heart-breaking as any, just not as long lasting as when you’re older because the next wallop to come along is *also* larger than (adult) life; but those early memories stay very sharp, don’t they.19 October 2015 at 09:37 #45108Anonymous @
I’ve heard things about a writer called William Lashner? Poss Fant/Sci-Fi? Have you heard? Any recom?
Cheers, Puro19 October 2015 at 09:54 #45111
@purofilion Lashner? Yes. He wrote a brilliant sort of superntural gothic horror novel set in Belize that I remember enjoying very much. His other work, what I’ve read of it, not so much. Also check out Michael Gruber, three books about a detective involved in supernatural doings in the Cuban community of Miami — can’t remember titles. Good books!19 October 2015 at 10:26 #45115Anonymous @
goodness, thanks to responding to that so quickly! I will check his out first as there was a Kindle copy of a recent ‘new’ book for barely $3 so I thought ‘no harm in asking’ first.
As to Gruber that sounds like a goer too.
Thank you !!!
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