Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sex and romance

What I've learned most is that if I'm writing a young adult fantasy novel, these books are not relevant, because of their unrelenting dystopic perspectives, the third-person point of view, and the seemingly obligatory graphic sex scenes. The latest one -- which I put down after about 100 pages -- was Glimmering by Elizabeth Hand, which I'm sure many people liked a lot. In fact, there's a lot to like. But there's a lot not to care so much about either. First, there's the two or three male anti-heroes who are not really likeable. After 100 pages I didn't care one way of the other about them. And I gathered that they were the good guys, since their "nemesis" (and seducer) was a really unattractive character. The main main character, a Christian rock star, kept getting unsolicited blow jobs which had the effect of destroying his faith. The premise of the book was promising, and the "end of the world" as we know it was interesting. But the third person subjective viewpoint seems rather dusty and ponderous much of the time, more literary and polished and less stylized than many popular novels, but not so literary or imaginative to suggest "writing for writing's sake." One might predict that this middle ground would be a good place to tell a story from, but for this reader, I either wanted someone who moved things along like Elmore Leonard, or someone who can REALLY write. Ian MacDonald can really write, and River of Gods is for the most part a really fascinating read, but it never seems to decide whether it wants to be action-adventure, soft porn, of high theory sci fi. There's so many characters and such a great machinery of plot and idea behind the scenes to keep them converging ... I wondered if it was all at the expense of telling a story, and creating characters that were memorable. The Krishna Cop and his wife from the country, with her romance with her gardener around cricket, were quite memorable, but there's several others who got equal space on the page who I can hardly remember at all. I did like Tal, the transgendered character. And the world they all lived in seemed so totally unattractive in every way, just like Elizabeth Hand's world, and Paolo Baciagulpa's futuristic Bangkok. Aside from being sort of depressing, it doesn't seem like good futurism to predict that everything bad about our current world will persist, and nothing of the good.

So I dropped all that and this morning started reading Skybreaker by Keith Oppel (I read the first volume a couple years ago) which I guess is some sort of steampunk, as the main characters run around the world in zeppelin-like airships. There's romance between Matt and Kate that's always just at the brink of sex, there's high adventure, colorful characters, lots of great settings and gadgets, and the action is unrelenting. So it's probably completely unsuitable for a grown man, but I can't get enough, and this is exactly the kind of book I'd like to write. Maybe my narrators will be a little less pure-of-heart and sincere than Matt and Kate, but still the reader will like them, and I'll like them too. I get the feeling that many of these characters in the adult sci fi are unloved and unloveable. I think back to Ursula LeGuin's Ged, who she obviously adored, and to Sabriel and Lirael, who are sufficiently complex, but who you would never think of not rooting for. Harry Potter, well sometimes you'd just like to see him fall off the broom. The key might be the certainty of a happy ending, or heroism, or good prevailing over evil, all that stuff. Whereas, the best you can do with the adult novels is what happens at the end of Earth Abides, which is that the main character dies but with the knowledge that things go on.

So I will make you love both Havel and Bloehm.

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