Sunday, July 13, 2008

Looks at Books

What's up, Internet? Me, my energy is through the roof since I unlocked the potential of regular cardio workouts. I've also started wearing UnderArmor and saying "'sup?" Soon I will be as unrecognizable as the pale waif at the end of that Edward Gorey story, only in the opposite direction.


The Night Land
William Hope Hodgson
I'm a little late on this one, since it dripped from the syphillis-addled pen of William Hope Hodgson in 1912. In a typical move for books of this era Hodgson's novel concerns the comings and goings of psychics who live in a gigantic silver pyramid several millions years into the future. The sun has gone out and terrible powers prowl the land, just completely killing the shit out of anyone they catch. The first half of this long narrative is pretty interesting and defies comparison to any other writer I can immediately think of. The protagonist stumbles around blindly in a suit of armor, relying for his safety on the home audience observing him through high-powered binoculars and signaling him with the 1912 idea of a Jumbotron. Various horrible things attack him. H.P. Lovecraft (unsurprisingly) loved it; I did not. In the second half the hero reunites with his (extremely) long-lost love and after that it's page after page of stomach-turning twee mincing: they argue for pages and pages about which one of them will give the other one their cape. An interesting curio - the text is available for free on the internet.

The Book of Lost Things
John Connolly
Hey, book-writing public, can we maybe have a moratorium on people explicitly acknowledging debts to Joseph Campbell and his god-damn Hero's Journey? And then, after that, can we have a big "get-together" where we inform the world community that just because you can get all excited about the supposedly ubiquitous "Trickster" category in world myth doesn't mean you should? Has anyone heard of Claude Levi-Strauss?

ANYWAYS, The Book of Lost Things is actually pretty good. Set during World War II it follows a boy named David as his family falls apart and then he gets blowed up by a crashing German bomber and travels to Darkly Re-Imagined Fairytale World, where anthropomorphic wolves menace him and the Crooked Man (eventually) offers him a terrible bargain. I think the story can't pick what it wants to be - self-indulgent gory action romp, or over-metaphorized psychological coming-of-age tearjerker. Other critics have pointed to a bizarre interlude with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as a symptom of the book's schizophrenia; I rather liked this portion, but I'm surprised that the editor didn't cut it, since it does contrast jarringly with the rest of the narrative's largely desperate tone. The slightest touch of thought's keen razor will begin to unravel major plot points as well (why, for instance, did the Crooked Man give David so many opportunities to grow emotionally self-reliant or be horribly killed?)

Connolly apparently writes thrillers, and much of the narrative moves along like one. It's certainly hard to put down, but in places the writing gets a little sloppy, the dialogue is leaden (although it's coming out of the mouths of knights and woodsmen - how natural can it be?), the characters are not terribly complex, and David's critically important emotional journey from petulant child to dude-stabbing badass is not really believable. Tune in for well-imagined villains, surely written action, and a satisfying little dab of schmaltz at the end. Not great literature; skip the conversation with the author at the end unless you have a specific reason to destroy your admiration for the book.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I am basically a huge jock now

Oh hello there internet! I didn't hear you come in!
Anyway, I bought a used bicycle and have started biking, which seems to me like the least loathsome form of exercise. Time will tell. I've been working furiously on a project for S&F over the past few months, and you can bet that I will tell you all about it when it comes to fruition.