Monday, August 18, 2014

STL #116: 11 Grievances against "Dragonrider"

So the old book club (we're going by "Critique of Pure Bookclub" this month) is tackling Dragonflight by Anne McCaffery. I went to the what I thought was the source--the Nebula (sf writers) award-winning novella "Dragonrider." I remembered Dragonflight as a short novel, and assumed that it was just a punched up version of the novella. My plan then was scrupulously scholarly: read the core version and evaluate the additions as padding or amplification. It turns out, though, that "Dragonflight" represents only the second half of the novel; "Dragonrider" had been preceded by the Hugo (sf fans) award winning novella, "Weyr Search."  The second novella appears unchanged; even some now-redundnant exposition is repeated. There might be some new material between "Weyr Search" and "Dragonflight," but I now longer care to find out. In fact, I couldn't even stand to go back and read the first half of the novel.

Coming up with the following list was not difficult. These grievance are, as you'll see, connected--petty problems indicate larger ones. They appear in no particular order, thought they begin with structure and end with style.

  1. Structural integrity: as mentioned above, the novel is two novellas slapped together. I understand the tradition of the "fix up" in sf, but it seems that the continuity is sacrificed. The revenge story of "Weyr Search" does not bear out in part two--by the end, the protagonist Lessa seems barely more important than some  dude named T'tot. 
  2. Rape (oh, should I repeat that this is not a ranked list?): I'm not saying fiction, even escapist fiction, needs to avoid this topic. This story is in its planet's dark ages, there's this weird animal bond angle, so the sexual violence could be a meaningful element of world-building. However, it is not. It just happened, and the dude felt bad about it.  I think this is the era of rape-creep; in an effort to be sexually liberated, a bunch of creepy rape fantasies snuck into the party.
  3. Time travel: This might be a personal idosyncracy. Time travel stories should be primarily about time travel, not time travel and x. If the later, time travel becomes the worst kind of deus ex machina. 
  4. Sh-sh-shaking: How many times does F'lar "shake" Lessa? Sure it's uncomfortable, but it's also single-dimensional and repetitive (412, 413, 419, 473, 607, 629, 654 ("He'll shake me...", 657 "I told you he'd shake me...")
  5. So Lessa and friends go back 400 years in the past. They persuade every single dragon rider to give up their life as they know it and travel to the future, never to return. In like, five minutes. Digression: Why does a medievalish society (and a medieval -400 years society) accept time travel so readily. I'm racking my brain and can't come up with a time travel story from before the Industrial Era. 
  6. Between: So I understand the intradimensional trans-space is called "between" But why the italics every time. When you discover you can travel between times, you really mean you can travel between times.
  7. Fandarel the smith loves flamethrowers: "Flamethrower? Flamethrower? Flamethrower." (551, 599)
  8. N'ames: Call back to world-building--there's an explanation, but it's lame, makes the page unfriendly to the non-nerd, and anyway what kind of language would tolerate names that range from F'lar to Robinton?
  9. Wait a minute! That's it! (aka plot construction)
  10. Ok so there's a culture that can bioengineer flame throwing, telepathic, teleporting, time traveling dragons. And the best way to stave off alien spores is flame throwing, telepathic, teleporting, time traveling dragons.
  11. The last sentence of the novel is: "Mother of us all, he was glad that now, of all times conceivable, he, F’lar, rider of bronze Mnementh, was a dragonman of Pern!" That sentence is indicative of the style in general.  

Friday, July 25, 2014

2014 Q2

Thought I already posted this...

Sf&f: The City and the City, Neverwhere, Neptune’s Brood
Comics: Fatale, George Perez’s Avengers Visionaries, Great Darkness Saga, 303, Lazarus, Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying, Little Hits (Fraction's Hawkeye), Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams, Defenders: "Tournament of Heroes"
other: Oregon Hill, The Tipping Point, Veronica Mars, Brothers K, Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus, I Know What You Did Last Summer
Romantic Poetry: Scott, Coleridge, Southey, Landor, Lamb, Campbell, Hazlitt, Moore, Hunt, DeQuincey, Peacock, Haydon, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Beddoes (i.e., finished the anthology I was reading)

Notes on reading--of the novels, probably most admired The City and the City which read like a chapter of Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveller that just kept going. A few of this I took in by audiobook: Neverwhere and The Tipping Point read by the author, which is always my preference. I heard that the Veronica Mars audiobook is narrated by Kristen Bell, which sounds appealing, but the third person viewpoint would be weird. Of the comics, I was pleasantly surprised by Brubaker and Phillips's Cthulu-noir take on crime fiction. I was not surprised by the Hawkeye (the second volume even better than the first), the Legion of Super Heroes Great Darkness (I had 3 of the 5 issues when a kid, so the nostalgia carried me through), or Defenders (for some reason, I have loved every issue of that series I've ever come across). It's work noting that Lois Duncan "updated" I Know What You Did by throwing in words like "texting" and "webcast." The updates were merely annoying, but I would seek out originals in the future.

I finished my major reading project in the Romantics anthology-- I should jot down some notes before too long. I also plan on glancing at some more current anthologies to see how the landscape has changed.  Expect to see some posts in next few weeks--thinking about a piece comparing the Reagan-era dystopias of Frank Miller and Margaret Atwood.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

2014 Q1

What I read from Jan 1- Mar 31, 2014

Sf&f: The Lathe of Heaven; Lies of Locke Lamorra; Red Seas Under Red Skies; Almuric; Miss Peregrine; Thief Eyes; The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

Comics: The Incal 1-6; Blueberry 2; Batman, Death by Design; Noel;The Black Mirror; Dark Knight Strikes Back (horrible); Chew 1-3; Chaykin’s Blackhawk; Mignola’s Corum; Miller’s Daredevil; Alias and the Pulse; Demo; The Essential Huntress

other:Super Graphic by Tim Leong; Call of the Wild;  Bold Stroke for a Wife; Beautiful and Damned; Dunciad; Moonwalking w Einstein

Romantic Poetry: George Crabbe; William Blake (Songs of Innocence/Exp; Marriage of H&H; Milton); Wordsworth (Lyrical Ballads, The Prelude)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

STL #115: The Year Reading, 2013

It's taken me a while to get back to this. So as I learned last time, I read a whole heck of a lot of books last year. Here is a an attempt at a list of the ten best. I made it by jotting down all possibilities and then starring all that jumped out as being a cut above the rest. That wound up being 10, so here you go.

1. We Have Always Lived At the Castle by Shirley Jackson. There's no doubt in my mind that this was the best book I read this year. Merricat is an unforgettable narrative voice and the scenes depicting mob mentality are chilling and unsurpassed. It lead me directly to Jackson's Haunting of Hill House, which is just a bit off this mark but also an astonishingly insightful narrative in (more pronounced) genre trappings.
3. Desperate Characters by Paula Fox. The second great discovery of the year. I read it in a single sitting one rainy Saturday morning. Though I wasn't there, it seems a cuttingly accurate portrayal of New York in the 70s. It's a story of breakdown on many levels--physical vandalism to social entropy to marital indifference.
4. The Counterfeiters by Hugh Kenner. From two compelling new voices (to me) to an old favorite. Kenner writes with a world-embracing confidence. The perspective of this study of Swift, Buster Keaton, and sundry others is remarkably contemporary.

5. Building Stories by Chris Ware.  The flaws of Ware are, as ever, equally his virtues. His style is cold and at times precious, but that's an unavoidable function of his aesthetic. While the appearance and perspective is classic Ware, the innovative packaging of the 14 separate components of the box labeled "Building Stories" represents something new--relinquishing something of his past demand for control to the participation of the readers.
6.  Borges Collected Fictions. It's odd to put the work of one of my favorite writers in this second rank. I might have made that statement about Ware as well--but perhaps it is the familiarity with both that led me too it. Or maybe, for Borges, it is the sheer whelm of reading so many of these short pieces (concurrently with the nonfiction). The best of the stories should be read in isolation, to allow them to resonate.
7. Little, Big by John Berger. To be honest, I don't think I was an adequate reader for this book. The prose is lovely and dense, and the plot intricate. I think it deserves more careful attention, than I gave it--it is a long journey in short steps that took me quite a while to finish. I hope to read this again sometime, though. 
8. The Score by Richard Stark. This is a proxy for the first six books of the Parker series that I read in succession. While I've adored the Parker novels I had been able to find, this sequence finally became available via ebook from my local library. I'm on The Seventh (the title), which I keep checking for, through The Sour Lemon Score and then I'll pick it up again with Deadly Edge

9. Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammet. Great book. What else is there to say? Let the Op speak: “I haven't laughed so much over anything since the hogs ate my kid brother.”  Or, more descriptive of the book: "This damned burg's getting me. If I don't get away soon I'll be going blood-simple like the natives.” 
10.  Dune by Frank Herbert. I reread this after many years. I had a vivid memory of the ecological specifics of the desert people and not much else. You see this cited again and again as a prime exemplar of world-building, which is certainly justified. The least talented stylist on this list by a country mile, which makes me wonder--what science fiction or fantasy writer has the best quotient of world-building facility and stylistic acumen? Is the apparent disparity real? If not, what is the reason for it?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

2013 Q4 (belated) and 2013 stats

Horror: We Have Always Lived in the Castle; The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All; Haunting of Hill House; October Country; Twentieth Century Ghost ; NOS4A2

Crime:Red Harvest; Baltimore Blues
Non-fiction: Cognitive Surplus; One Summer

Sf&F: Dying Inside; Among Others; Anathema

comics: finished Astro City; Morrison's Batman, Batman Inc, and Batman and Robin; Morrison's Flash; Seven Soldiers of Victory; Seaguy 1 and 2; Steed and Mrs. Peel;  Blueberry 1

~25 books

Totals (shocking even to me): 65 prose books (counted Borges Collected Fictions and Non-Fictions as only two books), 105 total books based on rough estimates of long runs of comics (i.e., determining equivalencies between the runs and  "books" (TPBs)) (in other words, about 40 TPBs). Surprisingly, Crime had the biggest slice of the pie (18), followed by sf (13), fantasy (10), horror (7), nonfiction (6), and poetry (3). There were 10 books that I did not classify, mostly classics and more recent "literary fiction." I kept comics separate (i.e., didn't count sf comics as sf).