The Sunday Salon: Bruce Sterling’s The Caryatids

This past week I started reading Bruce Sterling’s The Caryatids, tipping my hat to a proposal to celebrate June 23 as Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day

I haven’t read much in the cyberpunk genre (I vaguely remember William Gibson’s Neuromancer), but Sterling is a founding father and supposed to be of the highest order in the genre.

Set about sixty years in the future, the novel sets up a post climate-crisis world divided into three spheres of influence: the Dispensation, a hypercapitalist, entertainment-obsessed culture centered in Los Angeles; the Aquis, a global environmentalist culture that uses Big Brotherish-techniques to influence its followers; and China, the only remaining nation-state. Living in this world are four sisters—clones of a mad Balkans war criminal, part of a set of seven—the caryatids, who supposedly have some way to save the world from impending doom, if they don’t kill each other in the process.

So far so good. A post-apocalyptic world with Orwellian touches. And the novel gets a good start, introducing one of the clones Vera, who has fled to a Balkan island, Mljet, an Aquis stronghold. The Acquis use neural technology to retrain those who live in their sphere of influence. And there’s a lot of potential Orwellian dysfunction projected. 

There are a lot of interesting ideas projected in the novel, a lot of potential, especially for satire (the thickest section of the novel on the Dispensation could provide a potentially interesting satire of business and pop culture, if there were a stronger narrative drive.)

Which is the chief problem with this novel, as I’ve read it so far. The narrative is sketchy, the plot thin and comic bookish. There’s a hint of a cataclysmic supervolcano or some other natural threat. There’s a hint that the caryatids somehow can fix this cataclysm. But I haven’t quite really figured out how all of this is connected.

Stylistically, Sterling also throws around a lot of talking heads with little action in between. Which may be one reason the plot is difficult to follow, if there is an actual plot in the book.

Advertisements

The Sunday Salon: Getting Noir with Walter Mosley

Last year, when I read Walter Mosley’s The Wave, I was disappointed. It came off as a weird, cliched X-Files episode. Science fiction doesn’t seem to be Mosley’s genre.

But this week I finished his noir novel Fearless Jones. Noir pulp fiction is Mosley’s genre. Reading the novel reminded me of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction

Like that film, the characters in Fearless Jones aren’t necessarily savory, and because they are civilians, don’t have to operate on the right side of the law.

Set in 1950s L.A., the protagonists, used bookstore owner Paris Minton and his war hero friend Fearless Jones, get involved with thugs and killers, bad cops and mysterious women, and criminal clergy and Israeli special agents.

Minton gets involved in this mystery when the beautiful Elana Love comes into his store pursued by thug Leon Douglas. Love hides out while Douglas works over Minton, leaving only when neighborhood kids get nosey. Love and Douglas, and other nefarious forces, are seeking a valuable bond that is worth either thousands or millions, depending upon who they talk to. Minton enlists Jones to help him when Love takes off, and someone burns down his store. The two get caught up a in world of sex, murder, and stolen money.

Booking Through Thursday: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Here is Booking Through Thursday’s latest:

One of my favorite sci-fi authors (Sharon Lee) has declared June 23rd Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers Day.

As she puts it:

So! In my Official Capacity as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I hereby proclaim June 23 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day! A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.

So … what might you do on the 23rd to celebrate? Do you even read fantasy/sci-fi? Why? Why not?

 

I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy (also played fantasy and science fiction role-playing games, which I’ve written about before), and still love science fiction in particular, though I haven’t read much lately, except for William Hjortsberg’s Gray Matters. Of course, I keep in touch with science fiction through TV and movies as well — and have to say that although not a Trekkie by any means, the recent Star Trek movie is one of the best movies I’ve seen lately, not just science fiction, but in general; and kudos to Battlestar Galactica.

I think both science fiction and fantasy, as genres, used to bet too much bad critical press, despite such quality writers as Ursula K. LeGuin.

So, go boldly and read . . .

Booking Through Thursday: In the Niche

Here is this week’s Booking Through Thursday question:

There are certain types of books that I more or less assume all readers read. (Novels, for example.) But then there are books that only YOU read. Instructional manuals for fly-fishing. How-to books for spinning yarn. How to cook the perfect souffle. Rebuilding car engines in three easy steps. Dog training for dummies. Rewiring your house without electrocuting yourself. Tips on how to build a NASCAR course in your backyard. Stuff like that. What niche books do YOU read?

Books on writing. That’s definitely a niche category I read. I’m sort of addicted to them. I try to swear off them but then run into a good one like Write Away by Elizabeth George, and, well, I tap my vein  . . .

Other niche categories:

  • Computer books. I’m no techie by any means, but I like to find How To books on blogging, and have been trying to teach myself HTML, etc.
  • Hiking/Backpacking. I started hiking seriously in 2003; I’ve been checking out books, especially for sections on equipment and supplies–how much water or food to carry? or good trails and map reading.
  • Cooking. For years I’ve relied on The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cooking to help keep myself fed, sort of. I really would like to learn to cook better.
  • Self-help/Self improvement. I must confess I do like to delve into the self-help section sometimes, and have found some of the books helpful, especially with confidence issues. If any of you out there have a copy of The Art of Confident Living by Bryan Robinson that you want to give away, let me know. That’s one I want to read.
  • Religion/Spirituality. Devout agnostic that I am, I am also infinitely interested in religion. Religious history is interesting, as well as spiritual biography/autobiography. Karen Armstrong is a favorite author in this category. I’m also interested in Zen Buddhism, and would love any recommendations about books on Zen practice, especially meditation. 

The Sunday Salon: Write Away, The Shipping News and Blogging Web 2.0

A busy reading week. Finished Write Away by Elizabeth George, a well-rounded book on writing novels.

I was particularly impressed by the overview — yet not too overly academic — of plots. Usually with writing books you get some version of the Freytag Pyramid  — which she notes — and that’s about it. George talks about the seven-point plot, the three-act plot, the hero journey  and variations on all of them. 

Plot structure is a map, of course, and there is no set way to plot a story, as George notes, but it’s nice to have a map so you don’t get lost in the narrative.

Another thing George suggests that may keep writers from getting mired in the narrative swamp is the character analysis, a detailed rundown of a character that is part autobiography, part psychological analysis.

Overall, a reader/writer friendly book with useful bits for any writer, especially beginners setting about on the daunting task of writing a novel. 

***

This week also began Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, as part of my 100-novels reading project. It details the story of hapless third-rate newspaperman Quoyle as he, his two daughters Bunny and Sunshine, and his aunt Agnis Hamm discover the importance of family, love, and a little bit about knots in the strange landscape of Newfoundland.

I read a portion of this novel a few years ago, but was distracted by Proulx’s style,which is very lyrical. Also couldn’t picture Quoyle as anyone other than Kevin Spacey, who takes on the role in the film.

But then I read That Old Ace in the Hole, as well as several of Proulx’s short stories in The New Yorker, and began to get used to her style, which is particularly suited to love stories such as “Brokeback Mountain,” a gorgeous moving short story as well as film. 

***

Also been reading Todd Stauffer’s How To Do Everything with Your Web 2.0 Blog, a useful book on blog improvement that details everything from using XHTML and CSS to tweak your templates to adding RSS feeds and monetizing your blog. I’ve been thinking of how I might improve my blog, and especially use it as a tool to promote my writing.