Thursday, June 30, 2005

Book Corner

Two science fiction novels, both disappointing, and in sort of the same way: they wander here and there and I have no confidence the authors had any direction in mind.

The World Menders by Lloyd Biggle, Jr. Another space-anthropology book from Dr. Biggle. A space anthropologist tries to understand a primitive people and get them to revolt against their feudal overlords. I did not like this one as much as Monument because, although the ending of World Menders is not terrible, it feels as if Biggle may just have made it up at the last minute. And that important discovery in Chapter Twelve, oh yeah, that's totally inconsistent with the ending, so forget it, that must have been faked. It was a fake clue. That's got to be a cardinal sin of novel-writing.

I see from Wikipedia that this book was originally published in a magazine, in three installments. I bet when he wrote each installment, he had no idea what was going to happen in the next installment.

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. Here is an interview with China Mieville which reads in part:

Cheryl: Has [role-playing] been an inspiration to you in your writing?

China: It has. I used to play a lot of games, between the ages of about 10 and 13. I haven't played them for about 12 to 13 years and I have no interest in playing them again, but I have a great interest in them as a cultural phenomenon. I quite often buy and read game manuals because I am interested in the way that people design their worlds, and how they decide to delineate them.

Cheryl: That doesn't come over in your writing. There is no way anyone would read Perdido and think, "this is a D&D adventure write-up."

Well, I say baloney! Baloney! Baloney! That is exactly what I thought reading Perdido Street Station. "This is a D&D adventure write-up," I thought to myself.

These are some of the things in Perdido Street Station: bird-people, scarab-people, frog-people, theoretical pseudo-physics, powerful mind-altering drugs, robots, gangsters, weird religions, scary Mothra monsters, cyborgs, vivisection, demons from Hell, crazy god-like teleporting spiders, D&D adventurers, the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a police state, artificial intelligence, cactus-people, vampires, prostitutes, newspaper editors. It is kind of inventive how he packs all that stuff in there and somewhat ties it together. But there's also something shallow about it. It's an inventiveness of quantity rather than quality. Most of his ideas are not very original, but there are a lot of them.


At 2:57 PM, June 30, 2005, Blogger Maribeth said...

It was out of character for me to enjoy a SF/fantasy book, but I quite liked Perdido Street Station. Some of the characters weren't human, but all of them read like they were, and the story was interesting and well-written enough to keep me going for all those pages.

I know little of D&D, but if this book is a D&D adventure writeup it makes D&D seem more interesting than I had originally imagined. Not like I'm going to be joining any campaigns, or even reading any more science fiction novels, anytime soon, but nevertheless, not bad at all.

At 9:56 AM, July 01, 2005, Blogger Richard Mason said...

Well, there is a section towards the end of the book where the characters go and hire some swashbuckling "adventurers," the sort who are hungry for "gold and experience." Then they all rappel down into a domed city to hunt for monsters in the dark.

That part is a deliberate D&D adventure write-up, bordering on parody. The "gold and experience" line is a satirical wink.

Perhaps it is not fair to say that the whole book is D&Dish, although, like D&D, it represents a mish-mash of standard fantasy-fiction tropes.

At 6:14 PM, July 07, 2005, Blogger mapletree7 said...

Hmmm. Well. Hmmm.

I didn't notice that. But I was so distracted by the people! with insects! for heads! that I just about turned off my brain for the rest of the book.

There are some interesting parallels to Algren's 'Walk on the Wild Side' that made me feel Perdido Street Station was more ambitious than I had originally thought.

Interesting factoid: Mieville won't let his books be published in Israel for political reasons.

At 6:17 PM, July 07, 2005, Blogger mapletree7 said...

ps - I don't think we've had dinner but we must know some of the same people. Do you know a chick with a Welsh name who plays the harp? Or a short Chinese guy from Hawaii who owns a pig?

At 8:55 AM, July 08, 2005, Blogger Richard Mason said...

Yeah, my dinner list goes to zero occurrences / wishful thinking somewhere around Craig Barker. Which is really pretty sad.

At 9:37 AM, July 08, 2005, Blogger Richard Mason said...

And unfortunately no, I don't know any short Chinese-Hawaiian pig owners.

I probably do know some Welsh harp-playing chicks, but come on. Those are a dime a dozen.


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