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May 26, 2005

Loss of suspension
Posted by Teresa at 09:53 AM * 240 comments

Jackmormon, over at Not Yet Enlightened, writes about reading the novels of Perez-Reverte, and a catastrophic realization that hit him while reading The Fencing-Master:

So what kind of a book is this? It’s not noir, which admits the imperfections of its protagonists, exposes systematic social corruption, and maintains some narrative suspense. It’s not historical fiction, which usually explains a few things about how recent events shape the lives of the characters. No, this book is a Gary Stu fantasy.
I’ve never seen a better evocation of that terrible moment when you see too far into the emotional strategies of a work of fiction, and it falls dead for you. There’s no retrieving it. That moment of insight recolors all your previous readings, so that what was once fascinating is now just painful.

I’ve only ever seen one instance where it was salvaged. When I was a kid, I happily read Poul Anderson’s Dominic Flandry stories. When I got older they turned to ashes in my mouth, around the time I noticed what a shallow manipulative SOB Flandry is, and how often his exploits are paid for by the women in his vicinity. Then, much later, Poul Anderson paid off the series’ debts in full with the stark and (in my opinion) underrated A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows.

I was long past being a kid by then, certainly past believing that writers have any obligation to deserve the trust we give them; so the sense of relief and reassurance I felt came as a complete surprise. It surprises me still.

Comments on Loss of suspension:
#1 ::: Mr. Bill ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 10:23 AM:

I had that moment when I finished Heinlein's Friday, thinking it incoherent, and acting as some sort of summation of Heinlein's 'philosophy' (to use the word losely). It was selfishness and arrogance made literal. I couldn't even enjoy The Moon is a Harsh Mistress any more.
I hope to god I never get to this place with Dickens...

#2 ::: ElizabethVomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 10:44 AM:

I had that happen with the Anita Blake series; so painful. I miss those books! Once the "Sue" aspect took over, I couldn't even reread the old ones. I confess that I actually had a little bit of salvage when I read a bit of fan-fic that put the new badness in a different light (insanity); it was so well-written that it worked for me to end the series.

#3 ::: Cassie Krahe ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 10:55 AM:

Oh, I know that feeling. Some books break the authors for me. It's not usually Sues, but little writer tics to make things more interesting. I've found that bingereading sets it off, too; I have to keep myself from reading too many Connie Willis stories a week or I stop being amazed.

#4 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 10:57 AM:

I’ve never seen a better evocation of that terrible moment when you see too far into the emotional strategies of a work of fiction, and it falls dead for you. There’s no retrieving it. That moment of insight recolors all your previous readings, so that what was once fascinating is now just painful.

Piers Anthony.

No further comment.

#5 ::: Dan Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 11:10 AM:

I am inching this direction with Allan Cole and Chris Bunch's Sten books. I finished them yet again this month and they are starting to pall a little. Sten is probably a Gary Stu. Not your literary masterpieces, but they were rollicking good fun the first several times.

And Steve, I started my f/sf journey on Piers Anthony. I'll be eternally grateful because he brought me in, that long hot summer in North Carolina. But I haven't picked up a book by him in years, for the same reason.

#6 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 11:11 AM:

"Oh look, Francis has gotten hit on the head again."

#7 ::: Jackmormon ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 11:11 AM:

Thanks for the link! *blushes*

There are probably a few writers for me who've been retrieved--maybe Dostoyevsky--but not many.

#8 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 11:12 AM:

When I was reading mass quantities of science fiction as a young teen, I was quite uncritical, but I remember not liking Flandry, who he worked for, or what they did. I love almost all of Poul's work, and I have huge respect for him, so this is interesting. I know he had his blind spots. Some of his very late works are brilliant SF cut through with excruciating (for me) slabs of libertarian polemic. But others are simply brilliant all the way through. Did he write Flandry as a hero without being aware of his flaws? Or is it that Poul knew his history, and that empires and imperial officers aren't always nice? I guess it's time to go back and reread some of those stories. And thanks for the recommendation of Knight.

#9 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 11:14 AM:

Did Piers Anthony write anything after Macroscope and Cthon?

#10 ::: Zvi ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 11:18 AM:

> Piers Anthony.
> No further comment.

While there used to be things I could enjoy about Xanth and Phase -- a certain playfulness, evocation of the 'the Game', etc. -- having read Pornotopia (Anthony's 'porn' 'novel'), I am now unable to read a word.

#11 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 11:46 AM:

On Anita Blake: I read the books in reverse order (for some reason) and actually I found her earlier personality to be much more annoying. She seemed to think she was right about everything. I found more self-doubt in the later books and liked them better. But I also stopped reading them eventually, because . . . they really are trash.

On Heinlein: I don't really understand how some people can make a distinction between his "good" stuff and his "bad" stuff. Maybe it's a case of the bad polluting the good, but I think of him as an extremely talented writer (when it comes to the mechanics of language and plot advancement) whose ideas are almost indistinguishable from trash. To summarize: Jubal Harshaw.

#12 ::: Cassie Krahe ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 11:55 AM:

Piers Anthony is an author I tried to like much longer than I actually did. I loved the early Xanth books in sixth grade and read later ones every year until I noticed how much less I liked them. And still I read them because his first books were good, and he was one of the authors I liked all the time.
I just stopped caring after a while, and since I forced liking it for so long, I don't know when it was.

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 11:59 AM:

TomB, I regret never having had the courage to ask.

#14 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 12:40 PM:

The author for whom it happened for me was Anne McCaffrey. I greatly enjoyed the first Pern books, but then I found that certain things were repeating themselves, for instance disagreement was always an indication of purest evil (which frankly scared me). Now I find I am unable to pick up even the early ones, as I see the same things there.

#15 ::: Jim Kosmicki ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 12:45 PM:

I just got the latest Anita Blake novel from the library, and when I got 200 pages in I realized -- there's been one chapter about the vampire hunter stuff, and 190+ pages of weird soft-core porn.

I put the book down and instantly felt better. I went back to one of the early books and found it to be just as enjoyable as I remembered, so I'm not burned out on her writing or the character -- I just don't like where she has gone as a writer. I'm clearly in the minority as she keeps selling better and better, but I'm done reading the new ones.

#16 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 12:58 PM:

'I don't really understand how some people can make a distinction between [Heinlein] "good" stuff and his "bad" stuff.'

After reading the bad, late-career stuff, I pretty much wrote the guy off. Then I found a pile of his juveniles, and read "Waldo."

Here's the distinction in my mind. Early on, I think Heinlein understood the meaning of humility, sadness, and wonder.

In "Waldo," a doctor muses that the titular character's condition might be due to environmental problems (broadcast power) and Waldo gets his strength back with the help of a Amish folk magician.

In _Time for the Stars_, an STL ship spends decades out yonder. After the crew is decimated by ocean creatures they don't quite understand the expedition comes to a melancholy end when they are rescued by a new FTL ship.

Somewhere along the line, what the cranky old know-it-all character said became more important than what you could learn from the universe.

#17 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 01:10 PM:

Where Heinlein jumped the shark for me was I Will Fear No Evil -- the ending was just a complete cheat. I only finished Job (a pale re-working of Glory Road) after that.

But this talk of "the good Heinlein" and "the bad Heinlein" is fascinating in how it parallels how people talk about Kipling. More grist for the mill on the idea that their careers and writing are deeply related. Now a look at what was considered "good" and "bad" in each might provide insight into how SF criticism parallels mimetic literary criticism....

#18 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 01:30 PM:

Jim said:

"I just got the latest Anita Blake novel from the library, and when I got 200 pages in I realized -- there's been one chapter about the vampire hunter stuff, and 190+ pages of weird soft-core porn.

I put the book down and instantly felt better. I went back to one of the early books and found it to be just as enjoyable as I remembered, so I'm not burned out on her writing or the character -- I just don't like where she has gone as a writer. I'm clearly in the minority as she keeps selling better and better, but I'm done reading the new ones."

I too am one of the Anita Blake fans who's jumped ship because of the direction the storyline has gone. I cheerfully admit that the series is total potato-chip fiction, but every so often Ms. Hamilton used to make me smile with neat concepts and imagery; I really liked her Oldest Vampire On the Planet, old enough that he wasn't even Homo Sapiens, and the imagery of a vampire immolating himself in daylight as an act of self-sacrifice and redemption, surrounded by a cloud of his totem butterflies.

The last one I read was Narcissus in Chains and I haven't touched another one since.

#19 ::: scapegoat ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 01:44 PM:

Edgar Rice Burroughs seemed so meaningful when I was thirteen. Alas...

#20 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 01:48 PM:

Tom Whitmore said: But this talk of "the good Heinlein" and "the bad Heinlein" is fascinating in how it parallels how people talk about Kipling.

I am now equally fascinated. What is considered good vs. bad Kipling?

On Heinlein's early work: I don't remember the name of the collection that includes his time-travel stories, but I think they were all fairly early, and I do remember liking them a lot. They were more melancholy than most of his other stuff - sometimes they were even permitted to have unhappy endings. Is there something about time travel that is inherently pessimistic?

On I Will Fear No Evil - the ending is kind of lame, but maybe he had used up all his inventiveness on the sex-change stuff. That is one crazy book. When I hear people say "Number of the Beast was when Heinlein lost it," or when they start mentioning brain surgery, I think of IWFNE and laugh.

#21 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 02:02 PM:

Laura: I stole the phrase from Elliot Gilbert's book The Good Kipling: Studies in the Short Story. According to him, people who only like "the good Kipling" are upset about his supposed racism and paternalism, and Gilbert argues that this is based on quotes taken out of context (e.g. the phrase "The White Man's Burden", from a poem that is very ambivalent about the kind of paternalism Kipling was said to espouse). Much of Kipling's later work is not as good as the earlier in a different way from this -- more similar to Heinlein's problems in later books.

#22 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 02:03 PM:

Mr. Bill, Dickens was starting to go that way in Edwin Drood. One day, his publisher came to call, read over the author's shoulder for a minute or two, then realized with horror what he was going to have to do.

#23 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 02:05 PM:

I read the first three ER Burroughs Martian Warlord books and they were fun. I think the fourth one started to get repetative and I realized their were 8 or 9 more books in the series. Then I tried to read one of his Venus books and was put off by the preface, of all things, which lingered on Burrough's fondness for the Eugenics movement. I can handle a little wishfulfilment on the part of the author, so long as it's got a sense of energy and lack of shame but Eugenics is just creepy.

#24 ::: mike shupp ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 02:11 PM:

TomB: the Flandry books started as "original novels" in the old Ace double-novel days; they were very obviously science fictional pastiches of the James Bond novels, which were becoming wildly popular during the early 1960's.

Even as a not-very-critical teenager, the early Flandry stuff struck me as pretty minor work, but Anderson was a prolific writer of fairly serious stuff. I don't think he wrote them simply for easy money, in other words; I think he wanted to amuse his readers with something light and frivolous, and Ace gave him the opportunity.

Time passed, the Flandry series mounted up, Anderson and all the rest of us aged, the USA itself aged and took on tarnish, our foreign adventures were not all successful, our domestic leaders were not without flaw.

The times were sobering, I'm trying to suggest, and Anderson was shaped by them. And when the time came to generate some backstory and weld together a rather patchy series of tales, Anderson became more serious, Flandry became more serious, the governing metaphor switched from Cold War enthusiasm to Fall of the Roman Empire stoicism. I'm fairly certain this was deliberate; I will not guess at a motive.

My 2 cents.

#25 ::: scapegoat ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 02:23 PM:

I think I read about 7 of the ER Burroughs Martian books altogether, and not necessarily in order.

#26 ::: Jerol J ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 02:32 PM:

A few months back my wife got us new book shelves. So everything came out of the old shelves and then into the new ones. When I came upon my old paperbacks from my teens I did an experiment of reading the first few paragraphs to see if they retained any power. Edgar Rice Burroughs - got old real fast. Kenneth Robeson - the formula was so transparent. Robert E. Howard - I had to stop myself and get back to work after finding I was on the third chapter and still going strong.

#27 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 03:12 PM:

Robert E. Howard + Conan the Cimmerian... need I say more?

Maybe some latitude for Worms of the Earth... nah. I stand by my first sentence ;-)

#28 ::: Jude ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 03:14 PM:

I had the same feeling reading The Fencing Master. However I did enjoy The Seville Communion a great deal.

Granted nearly everyone has commented on how truly bad The Da Vinci Code is, but the protagonist really is one of the worst cases of onanistic fantasy I've seen on paper in awhile.

#29 ::: Piscusfiche ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 03:25 PM:

I too had the same thing happen with Piers Anthony's work that so many other people describe--I tried re-reading one of his Incarnations of Immortality books recently, just to make sure that I wasn't accidentally cribbing the story line for one of my own stories, and not only was I reassured, but I came away with the memory of the books somewhat tarnished. I can still read 'em because I have that particular gift or curse that lets me read almost anything, but man: so much sexist crapola that I didn't remember from the first time. Meh. One big meh.

While we're on the subject, can I even dare whisper the words, "Star Wars"? We saw it with friends that we were visiting with in Santa Monica, and we all spent some time trying to resuscitate our suspension of disbelief, but it was nigh impossible once we'd started laughing. I got into another argument with a friend, who was trying to say that if I bought X and Y and Z, that I should have no problem with Q. My point was that you get a certain type of "gimme" and you get just the one, and then you should be otherwise consistent with characters and whatever weird logic rules your universe. You can't expect me to do the hard work of justifying EVERYTHING. If you set up a character--we'll call her P--and she happens to be a person who has been immersed in politics since a very early age, and is comfy handling blasters, you don't turn her into a wilting flower in the third movie.

(SPOILERISH:


George Lucas is responsible for the most unbelievable movie pregnancy EVER. The gestational milestones--bump to twins in a few weeks. The post-partum from hell. And the worst prenatal and aftercare in the galaxy. What--we can have respirating droids, mechanical arms, starships, but a Senator for the Republic can't get decent birth control or gynecological services? What was Teresa saying earlier in a different thread about access to birth control making women more bold with their career choices?)

#30 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 03:45 PM:

Piscusfische --

I took the lack of pre-natal care to be indicative of the total teenager terror of getting caught, because the Republic can certainly identify the father genetically, and then mayhem occurs.

'Good Kipling'; I think it was Orwell, indeed I am certain it was Orwell, who tied himself in such knots about Kipling that he wound up with the phrase 'good bad poet' as the best description.

The short stories, including many of the late short stories -- "The Army of a Dream", "My Perfect Sunday", the several and various post-Great War loss of children stories -- are just, well, they are why he got a literature Nobel, and I'd say he deserved it.

You have to be a complete and utter turnip to read Kipling's stuff as treating anything (expect possibly the value of doing your job well) as an unambivalent good or an unambivalent evil.

#31 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 03:50 PM:

Mike S -- the Flandry stories started in 1951, two years before the first Ace double. A few were expanded for doubles much later. The main early canonical books were published by Chilton in the mid-60s, and were collections. It's possible they were influenced by Fleming, but it's not related to the popularity of Fleming in the 60s.

#32 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 03:58 PM:

Mike Shupp wrote my two cents before I could. It's been a long time since I dipped into Flandry, but I seem to recall even the early ones had a certain awareness of the moral ambiguity of Flandry's position. It was much like the better bits of Bond (rather few and far between), that very British sense of toiling manfully in a doomed cause, a tone which is of course even stronger in Le Carre and goes off at a ninety-degree angle in Greene.

Not that Anderson was exactly British. Hrmph.

And I'm quite sure that he knew his history.

#33 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 04:14 PM:

Did he write Flandry as a hero without being aware of his flaws?
I suggest the answer is no.

Bearing in mind the influence of Heinlein on the fashion for connected future history with background material for the fans and the influence of Foundation on optimism Anderson's first future history efforts were optimistic in terms of eventual outcome after passing through dark ages e.g. U.N. Man 1953 in The Psychotechnic League - clone your Prince and you're home free.

It's said that like some others there was a disillusionment with faith in the planned state - see especially some of the stand alone shorts I'd suggest Sam Hall 1953 or The Pugilist - I think Dr. Pournelle reprinted a couple in 2020 but I may not remember correctly.

Or is it that Poul knew his history, and that empires and imperial officers aren't always nice? Yes of course see the story Marius 1957 from the somewhat loosely connected series mentioned above in which the good guys do know what they are doing because Hari Seldon crossed universes but are also aware of the costs.

time to go back and reread some of those stories

Sure why not.

#34 ::: mike shupp ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 04:30 PM:

Tom Whitmore -- God, how I hate it when a beautiful theory is ruined by ugly facts!

#35 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 04:36 PM:

Anna:
I too am one of the Anita Blake fans who's jumped ship because of the direction the storyline has gone.

So's my wife. (Who, coincidentally, is also named Anna -- I just checked your Web page to make sure you're not her.) >8->

She was a huge fan of the early novels. She was still enjoying them as far as Obsidian Butterfly, I think. Then she got sick of the way-too-pumped-up superpowers and the way-too-irrelevant sex, and started reading Charlaine Harris instead. Those appear to be a lower-key, somewhat wryer version of what the Anita Blake series used to be.

(Oh, and you do not want to get either of us started on Hamilton's faerie novels. Argh.)

#36 ::: S. E. ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 04:41 PM:

Heh. Should I ever become famous, if I start writing Sues/Stus or rehashing my old plotlines over and over, I give advance permission for someone to slap me. Then, while I'm too stunned to do anything, tell me I'm recycling myself.

I, too, used to be a Laurell K. fan. While I have nothing against porn--I've written a fair piece of erotica in my time--I object to Mary Sue PWPs. There's no plot, no real character development, and only the occasional shiny new image to make me go, "Ooh." If Laurell could recapture the old action and notions of self-restraint and blend them with the new, self-doubting Anita (maybe without the hordes of man-slaves and the uber-elite powaz), I'd take her up again in a minute. (A good, solid plot wouldn't hurt, mind.) But if I want bog-standard sex and guys in old-fashioned clothing, I'll read one of my mentor's old Regency romance novels for free.

*doesn't get why people need to write Sues and Stus, when flawed, fragile, real characters are so much more fun to work with*

#37 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 04:49 PM:

Piscusfiche:
.

.

.

.

A spoilin' we will go...

.

.

.


George Lucas is responsible for the most unbelievable movie pregnancy EVER.

You forgot about the twins who were clearly two months old and must have weighed fourteen pounds each. (Says the current proud father of a fourteen-pound two-month-old.) >8-> If she really gave birth to those two, it's no wonder she was too exhausted to go on!

The pregnancy was one of the minor things that annoyed me about the movie, only because it would have been so easy to get right. $115 million dollar budget, Yoda alone costs millions to render, and they can't achieve realistic human baby effects. Pshaw.

(The major thing that annoyed me about the movie was that the Jedi were assholes, who in many ways got what was coming to them. But that's another rant, and way too off-topic here.)


#38 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 05:01 PM:

"You forgot about the twins who were clearly two months old and must have weighed fourteen pounds each."

Poor little nippers. Half that weight is midichlorians.

#39 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 05:31 PM:

Steve E., it sounds as if your wife and I have more in common besides our name! :) Obsidian Butterfly was the last Anita Blake I actively enjoyed--partly because I liked Edward as a character and partly because it was a relief to get a vacation from all the Jean-Claude-vs.-Richard relationship angst.

As for the Merry Gentry books, heh. A good friend of mine once remarked that she didn't need to read Ms. Hamilton's fantasies about sex with long-haired elf boys, she had plenty of those on her own. ;) That sums up my opinion about that series quite nicely.

I too read Charlaine Harris and have indeed noted the similarity to the Anita Blakes in tone, only without the gratuitous gore and sex. Which is making Ms. Harris' books a lot more enjoyable to me these days.

#40 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 05:32 PM:

Steve Eley - not to mention, most of them were utterly incompetent.

#41 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 05:58 PM:

This thread is a great source of "Dear lord, it's not just me!" moments. Ah Piers Anthony and Laurel K Hamilton.

I too was much enamored with Piers Anthony, I believe I must have read more than 50 of his books in a two or three year period in high school. Then, while starting on my umpteenth series I realized that the man only had seven characters and four plots, and that I had been reading an exercise in literary combinatorix.

Then there's Anita Blake. Being a big fan of Japanese girls comics, I was very pleased to find a good Harem novel series in the US, with a main character who was much cooler and more capable than the average protagonist in manga series. But I feel that not only does Anita become an extreme Sue, she blows the whole harem formula.

The harem formula is dead simple. Girl meets a bunch of guys, each attractive in their own, distinct way. Girl falls for one (or two in some cases), but still cares deeply about the rest of them, all of whom are still deeply and hopelessly in love with her. While she remains their friend and relies on them for support, their relationships are purely platonic. This allows all the gooey fangirls to "pick" their favorite neglected guy and pine for him in a pleasantly detached fashion.

Anita did that really well at first. I picked up my Asher and sailed along on a pleasant, gooey current. But then LKH screwed it up by having Anita sleep with him now, and Nathaniel, and Jason, and all of the pleasant platonic support guys. Nooooooo!

There are a lot of other deviations from the shojo manga harem forumla, but this was the one that ruined the series for me. Before that, I could ignore all the powerz, and the lack of real cooperation and partnership with her friends, and the very obvious stabs against some real life exes.

I'd have to say that Obsidian Butterfly was the last one I really enjoyed myself. She teased us there with an implication that Anita might be back on the path to self-control.

#42 ::: michelle db ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 06:07 PM:

About a year ago, I read a book by an author whose work I've enjoyed and admired over the years. I was about half-way through before I realized that this book, unlike her former work, was a mess. The main character was a Mary-Sue (thanks to Making Light I knew what to call it); other characters were completely flat, there only to confound or interact with the main character; the plot is confusing, crammed into the book, much of it relegated to exposition that was ungainly and intrusive; and there were several egregious continuity errors, even some spelling errors that could easily be found with a spellcheck.

An example of discontinuity: during a conversation between two characters, one calls the other by the name of a completely different character, some of the time. In another case, there was a race of critters whose name is spelled one way in parts of the book and another way in other parts. This is a good writer, I could see the bones of the book, it just hadn't been fleshed out enough, or maybe there were bones that needed to be eliminated. The characters needed thought. I felt like a was reading a first draft of something that should have been two or three books instead of one.

I haven't included the name of the author or book because I'm curious not so much about this book specifically but rather about the processes of book publishing that might contribute to the publishing a book with these problems.

How does this sort of thing happen-- a bad book by a good writer? Could it be the author loosing her ability? Running into an unmovable deadline? Is there ever an instance when an editor would say, well this still has major problems but we'll publish it anyway? All of the above? Does an editor ever say to an established writer, no, this can't be published this way? Can someone help me understand how this might work?

#43 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 06:11 PM:

About 25 years ago I inherited a long run of mid-60s Campbell edited Analogs from a friend of my dad's, whose wife wanted rid of them (even a couple of Astoundings) They had lots of great short stories by Christopher Anvil and Piers Anthony, which I really enjoyed (along with Harrison and Heinlein and lots of others).
Anvil is a bit Gary Stu-ish (at least, the Interstellar Patrol spaceships are), but the characters have to work out how to use their superior tech well. Baen has recently republished some of Anvil's, but is the early Anthony available anywhere?

Imagine my disappointment when I looked in the library for Anthony and found Xanth instead...

Not to mention the anguish when I came home from college in the 2nd year and found my mum had 'tided up' and thrown them all out.

#44 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 06:27 PM:

One can argue that Campbell was the most important magazine editor the field has had -- book editor is harder to judge.

#45 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 06:31 PM:

S.E. said:

"*doesn't get why people need to write Sues and Stus, when flawed, fragile, real characters are so much more fun to work with*"

I can think of a couple of reasons, mostly based on my experience with text-based online roleplay games.

#1, inserting oneself into the role of the protagonist is a very easy way for someone to develop that protagonist in their heads. If the character is essentially you, you don't have to work very hard to figure out what he or she will do in any given situation.

#2, which is related to #1, a roleplayer (or writer) may be trying to indulge in a form of self-therapy by putting the character into an unconquerable situation that plagues him or her in real life. By having the character conquer the situation, they get a form of escape from dealing with it--or in the better cases, might figure out a way to deal with it in reality as well as in their story.

It takes skill and practice for a roleplayer or writer to do more than this with a story. Not everyone starts off with the talent to do so without working at it... and while it's a skill that can be learned, certainly, not everybody manages to pick it up. Also, as I think is getting demonstrated well in this discussion at large, veteran writers can fall into the trap of self-insertion just as well as neophytes can. :)

#46 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 06:33 PM:

I'm one of the folks who doesn't mind the porn part of LKH's Anita Blake books. I can even handle the Mary Sueism. What got to me was the total lack of editing, on both the big and small levels.

I've been disgusted enough with a few books to throw them across the room. LKH's last Anita book got thrown across the room and then stomped on.

#47 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 06:59 PM:

I'm with Aconite. Much of what's horribly horribly wrong with Hamilton has to do with editing. And yes, I think the Anita books stopped being interesting after Obsidian Butterfly. Here's a comment I wrote about Incubus Dreams at Amazon shortly after it came out. I'm still getting nasty e-mails about my "attack."
----
This was an extremely difficult book to read. It might be a good book, but it's too annoying to read and enjoy in its raw state; the clumsy editing is enough to violate the tacit trust a reader needs to have in an author. There's an editing error on almost every single page, and that's a problem with the publisher, not the writer.

Now, I've noticed that Hamilton's books are poorly copy edited in general. I expect things like "alright" for "all right," and "midmorning" for "mid morning," but in this book we have, more than once, diety for deity, ardeur spelled in a number of interesting ways, Damian as Domain, and Damain, sauve for suave, put for but (a dyslexic marker, which makes me wonder), libility for liability, particliar for particular, hoptial for hospital, retch and wretch are confused (and, like discreet and discrete, not for the first time in one of Hamilton's books), and a cornucopia of continuity errors, and contradictions of facts presented in previous books. The grammar is, well, let's just say I'm used to reading the work of under prepared freshmen, and even they aren't this bad. Even the grammar and style checker in Microsoft Word will catch its/it's and you're/your, and would of/would have errors. Was there an editor involved? I'm talking about comma splices, and not just in dialogue, commas sprinkled as if they were a seasoning, apostrophes in plurals, and not in possessives, sentence fragments, and Hamilton's long-term problems with irregular verbs, especially lay and lie. We'll skip the creative use of French and German. Incubus Dreams desperately needs a decent line editor--Hamilton's developed a number of repetitive nervous twitches in her writing, including repeating descriptions verbatim (not only from previous books, but repeating them in this book) like frequently repeating that only new vampires flash fang. Limit this kind of reference to once per book--that way, you clue in new readers, but you don't annoy them. I'd guess that at least 25% of this book could, and should, have been cut. A good editor could have really made something interesting out of Incubus Dreams. Right now, it's a mess.

If I hadn't seen this kind of sloppy editing and writing in previous books, I'd blame overly rapid typesetting and a rush to market, but this is just too awful to find any excuse for it, even that one. And I can't even hope that the errors will be corrected in the paperback, based on previous books.
----
I confess to being deeply curious about why the normal editorial process doesn't seem to have happened.

#48 ::: Temperance ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 07:54 PM:

I always thought Heinlein jumped the shark with "Starship Troopers," frankly ... although I loved "Stranger," which came out after it. I still consider Heinlein one of my favorite authors -- nobody, but nobody, could write snappy dialogue the way he could, not even Preston Sturges -- but I can only read the books written before "Starship Troopers" now, except maybe "Job".

#49 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 07:55 PM:

Suggestions Poul Anderson drew from history and a whiff of history repeats - perhaps as farce only for those who don't expect to see it through?

This from: "The Price of Buying Time", by Sandra Miesel

Thus it was with the Terran Empire as it had been with the Roman nearly 3,000 years before. .... His son Josip, however, was every bit as degenerate as Marcus Aurelius' son Commodus and his impact on the Empire every bit as disastrous. The disorders that followed Josip's death tossed up Hans Molitor who was an exact counterpart to Septimus Severus, similarly provided with two incompetent sons, and likewise destined to die on an unruly frontier. After another round of civil wars, Flandry became the key advisor to a sound, Aurelian-like Emperor.

The Terran Empire was completing its Principate phase and beginning its Interregnum in Flandry's day. After his death, it became a Dominate, a static, repressive state with all the harshness of Diocletian's Rome. All the negative tendencies of the previous era persisted unchecked. Not even a resort to divine kingship could save the Empire. The Fall, so slow, so long expected, was complete by the middle of the fourth millennium. Technic civilization was extinct. The Long Night had arrived. Emphasis added.

IIRC Sandra Miesel (and Poul Anderson) has some observations on Kipling also worth looking up.

Seems to me Flandry remarked something to effect of "women the other aliens" as an ensign and built from there (who did woman as physiological alien in the house? and I suppose like Tiptree would have tipped the author's own experience?)


#50 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 08:08 PM:

I'd like to defend Poul Anderson from the suspicions that he didn't know what he was doing with Flandry. First, he knew his History. I mean he REALLY knew his history, the way Turtledove knows Byzantium.

Second, please recall that he supported U.S. troops in Vietnam, along with Heinlein and many others, in that awkward period where the whole world remembers two full-page ads in the New York Times, one pro-War, one antiwar, both paid for by signatory Science Fiction authors. I'd have advised them in advance that their efforts would cancel out, and to save those dollars earned with ink and blood. In any case, Poul Anderson told me, with amazement, that both he and RAH were attacked over this. "They called me a fascist!" he said, eyebrows raised. Then asked me to e-mail him again about a pseudo-Joycean robot poem of his, as his email has crashed.

Willing suspension of disbelief has gone and come back again for me with several authors. To begin with, I was once annoyed at the character of Odysseus, who didn't seem eager enough to get back to his kingdom and wife. But then, in 3rd Grade, I realized that, although I didn't believe that Neptune was dicking him around, he did, and the audience of the day knew that he did. Whether they were suspending their disbelief or not, deponent sayeth not.

Now that I think of it, the fictional character that phased in and out of W. S. of D was Superman. Hey, how can he push that star? Stars are gas, or plasma. Hey, how can he carry that building by the cornerstone. Wouldn't it crumble under the compression from its own weight concentrated on that small area of his hands? Then I started coming up with SF explanations for everything he was doing, until I was doing more writing than the writer. That was my set of training wheels; now I ride that bicycle more easily.

#51 ::: shmegegge ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 09:51 PM:

Glad to see I'm not the only one who can't go back to Heinlein. It started for me with "Time Enough For Love," when I realized I was reading a Jubal Harshaw story with another character's named attached. Then I gave up for years. Unfortunately the book I decided to return with was "The Cat Who Walks Through Walls," where all the Gary Stus of Heinlein's career all get together for... god knows what reason. At least most of them die at the end.

Piers Anthony was an excellent call. I can't believe I read 16 of those Xanth novels, and even moved on to the Incarnations of Immortality series before I finally stopped.

to those I would like to add 2 more:

1. Robert Anton Wilson
2. Tom Robbins

#52 ::: shmegegge ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 09:52 PM:

oh, and thank you for telling me the name of this phenomenon. I never knew how to describe the thing I've always hated most about writers I used to like.

#53 ::: Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 10:48 PM:

Re: "Did Piers Anthony write anything after Macroscope and Cthon?"

Given that the character named "Brad" in _Macroscope_ was first turned into a drooling idiot by alien TV programs, then turned into a giant starfish by a failed attempt at medical intervention, and then died horribly, I have never read anything else by Piers Anthony.

Should I have?

Am I perhaps oversensitive?

#54 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 11:25 PM:

"Am I perhaps oversensitive?"

Anthony has written some frothy, genuinely entertaining junk. Sci-Fi romances, in the non-bodice-ripper sense of the word. Some of these I don't feel like I wasted precious life moments having read. (It's been twenty years, so pardon me if I don't provide titles.)

But for every bit of jolly comfort food SF & F he's written, he's written shelves full of awful, self-derivative, sometimes smarmy/creepy stuff. That is what I've come to judge him by.

#55 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 12:38 AM:

In General, With Notable Exceptions:

The first book in any Piers Anthony series is well worth reading. There are new ideas, pretty good storytelling, and a bunch of engaging writing.

The series degenerate into formula with nothing new at different rates.

Standalone novels are much more of a lottery as to whether they're worth the trouble or not.

#56 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 12:53 AM:

Hey, if you think it's horrible to see through a favorite author's work and ruin it for yourself, stop and imagine what it's like when a reader's comment suddenly lets you see what's shallow and repetitive and overdone in your own published work.

Sometimes it takes me years to forget it and write unselfconsciously again.

#57 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 01:13 AM:

Star Wars. Sigh.

I saw part of a show recently calledWhen Star Wars Ruled the Earth, and it made me so sad. I can remember what it was like: how excited we all were, how innocent and young and unjaded we all were. I can remember going to see the first of the movies 28 years ago this weekend. And I remember the intense discussions which went on for hours in the con suite afterwards. What I wouldn't give for that excitement again. It was the movie that changed everything and because it changed everything I can't have that feeling again. If you see what I mean. Sigh.

It was long ago and in another country. Besides, the wench is dead.

MKK

#58 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 01:26 AM:

When I was in fifth grade, I started reading L. Ron Hubbard's Mission Earth "dekalogy" ( a foul, ignorant, self-flattering attempt at a neologism if there ever was one). I finished the tenth book in the series at the end of sixth grade.

I was too young to cop to the real essence of the series (that it was Scientology's coo-coo-for-Cocoa-Puffs crusade against psychiatry, with laser guns and sex), and thought I was reading a serious, intricate, series about interplanetary intrigue. Until I got to the eighth volume or so, at which point the game was up, even for me. I finished the series out of a desultory sense of duty.

See, L. Ron died partway through the composition of this particular Crap Everest, and his literary re-animators dealt with this by the clever expedient of having the ghostwriter(s) dump the previous seven-odd books worth of plot. A whole new fucking story breaks out about 80% of the way through the ten books; the guy who narrated the entire series up to that point gets thrown in prison. Very subtle.

#59 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 01:39 AM:

(fuzzy with sleep-dep, but I have a few thoughts)

Seems to me that the big influence on Anderson, very clear and from the first (The Broken Sword), was Norse mythology. Anderson was not, finally, optimistic in the way of Heinlein. Flandry ends embittered and (IIRC; it's been years) corrupted, and the Empire falls into the Long Night; it is the Twilight of the Gods, after which renewal--but long after.

It's odd how macrohistorical themes are woven into that generation's work: Anderson and the Long Night, and later Rome; Asimov and Rome; Blish and Spengler; Heinlein with his faint precursor of the Singularity--he feared the loss of humanity--not the last writer to do so.

On a completely other tack, it occurs to me that my reaction to most popular song has become that collapse into seeing too far. I find most popular music beautifully crafted--the technical skill of modern production is extraordinary--and empty, empty, empty.

#60 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 01:40 AM:

About Star Wars: You know, a lot of that excitement isn't anything about the movie or the world, it's just being young. I was nine in 1977--absolutely, positively the perfect age to be when Star Wars burst forth upon the world. But there were a lot of things that stank about being nine, so I don't think I'd go back.

#61 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 01:45 AM:

Re: Laurell K. Hamilton and the mutation of Anita Blake, there is a dandy fan website, which pretends to be Anita Blake's blog, and is regularly hacked and hijacked by Jason, Jean-Claude and others making sarky comments. http://www.livejournal.com/users/blakesblog/
(or if you want to begin at the beginning)
http://www.livejournal.com/users/blakesblog/2005/01/08/
though one of my favourite posts is the Ardeur Feeding Schedule: http://www.livejournal.com/users/blakesblog/2005/02/20/

I should try re-reading some of the Leslie Charteris Simon Templar series. Does it count as a Gary Stu if the character is up-front described as swashbuckling and handsome and cleverer than everyone else?

#62 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 02:36 AM:

Okay, I confess. I was a Merseian sympathizer from the beginning.

#63 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 02:46 AM:

My reply to Randolph vanished into the aether....

BROKEN SWORD is not Anderson's earliest by any means, as at least one of the Flandry stories predates it (in publication, 1951 vs 1954). Yes, the Norse myths are a major influence on him, but I expect that Gibbon's DECLINE AND FALL was much more influential on the Flandry stories.

I fear I'm going to turn into the local history (of SF) curmudgeon.

I was 24 when STAR WARS opened (none of this revisionist "Episode 4" crap for me!), taking time off from drilling holes in the ceiling to open The Other Change of Hobbit two days later, seeing the second show for a paying audience at a benefit for Pacific Film Archive. You didn't have to be 9 to be blown away. It changed the way we thought about filmed SF.

#64 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 04:14 AM:

Anent Kipling: There is, of course, Orwell's judgement (about his verse) that he was a good bad poet. I've got a lot of time for Orwell, so maybe he was right. Maybe Kipling was a good bad writer of fiction, too. I would defer to the judgement of others on this. But I'll say this: anyone who can write about hanging a man for a murder that he undeniably committed; can put the narrative into the mouths of two hardened soldiers of the Queen in the year about 1885, and can use that to evoke crepuscular horror about the hanging, that writer is no fascist, no blind patriot, no Colonel Blimp.

I loved Kipling when I found him; I love him still. There. I've said it now and I don't care.

#65 ::: S. E. ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 04:53 AM:

Anna said:

I can think of a couple of reasons, mostly based on my experience with text-based online roleplay games.

I know what you mean by it being easier to write oneself. The problem, though, is... they're just not doing that. They're writing ideals--what they want to be, what they would do if they suddenly had super powers and few or no flaws. There are ways it can be done well. Hell, write a Villain!Sue. There's no absolute law that says a villain has to get her comeuppance, but it helps. (Though there has to be some resolution. If the villain wins, she has to claw her way to victory. No, "Oh, you're better than us. Here. *silver platter*")

At the moment, I'm working on an epic non-traditional fantasy trilogy. The POV character and I aren't really that much alike, at least as I am now. If anything, he's a male version of me as a snotty, sullen, everybody-hates-me teenager, zits and all. But, in the end, he's his own character. He's a lot more reactionary and potentially violent than I ever was, and he expresses himself through minor political machination, rather than writing and being weird. If anybody's the Sue, it's one of his fellow apprentices (a loud, raucous, slightly insane boy with a taste for weapons and whores), who's still different enough from me to be unrecognisable. To put it another way: you don't need to write yourself to get into a character's head, and minor similarities are more than enough to give a writer his or her foothold.

Really, if someone just starting out writes nothing but Sues and Stus, it's not a big deal. We've all done it. I spent years upon years doing it before I learned better. However, when someone has got five or six novels under his/her belt, the tendency should be gone. A true Sue is a sign of lazy writing. (On the other hand, a bona fide superman/superwoman is a genuine challenge, because the temptation to make him/her superior in all respects is enormous.) I've spent enough time in fanfic and RPGs to know that Sues really are a natural part of the learning process. I only really get annoyed when pros start writing like amateurs, because it means I've plunked down my hard-earned money to read the sort of thing I could have found on fanfiction.net for free.

/rant *sheepish grin*

#66 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 07:53 AM:

Ah, Piers Anthony! What did it for me was an afterword in one of the interminable volumes of Bio of a Space Tyrant. He was writing about being in the hospital, and how his daughter was a candy striper, and he seemed to be dwelling on how hot she looked in her uniform. I don't remember how exactly he expressed it; probably something mild, but creepy. Anyway, it kind of clicked with me that his books were chock-full of rape, incest, and sex with adolescents, all of it presented as sexy and cool, and that he was choosing to present it that way. Haven't touched one of his books since, except to pick up his autobiography for a quick glance at the bookstore. I wish I hadn't - I managed to open right to the section where he talks about how many of his readers write to him that they've been raped, and then proceeds to provide a graphic description of what happened to one reader. At least he feels bad for these women, but his Tyrant character is always getting laid by being sympathetic to a rape victim, or being less willing than other guys to smack up a girl, etc. Or, you know, being a good brother.

Yuck. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

#67 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 07:53 AM:

Ah, Piers Anthony! What did it for me was an afterword in one of the interminable volumes of Bio of a Space Tyrant. He was writing about being in the hospital, and how his daughter was a candy striper, and he seemed to be dwelling on how hot she looked in her uniform. I don't remember how exactly he expressed it; probably something mild, but creepy. Anyway, it kind of clicked with me that his books were chock-full of rape, incest, and sex with adolescents, all of it presented as sexy and cool, and that he was choosing to present it that way. Haven't touched one of his books since, except to pick up his autobiography for a quick glance at the bookstore. I wish I hadn't - I managed to open right to the section where he talks about how many of his readers write to him that they've been raped, and then proceeds to provide a graphic description of what happened to one reader. At least he feels bad for these women, but his Tyrant character is always getting laid by being sympathetic to a rape victim, or being less willing than other guys to smack a girl up, etc. Or, you know, being a good brother.

Yuck. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

#68 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 07:54 AM:

whoops, sorry for the double post. One for Electrolite, one for Making Light!

#69 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 08:02 AM:

Lord, yes, Star Wars changed everything. I hadn't heard any of the advance buzz on it. I went because my friends were going, and I had no expectations whatsoever, because you didn't. Not if it was a science-fiction movie. Your baseline assumption was that it would be awful -- either lively-but-stupid or earnest-but-dull -- and you were grateful if any part of it was better than that.

The explosive blare of the Star Wars fanfare, and the introductory text (look, it's the expository lump!) were a revelation. I remember that I was laughing silently but uncontrollably, in what I later realized was sheer relief (this guy knows what he's doing!).

This was followed by more classic SF expository tricks: a nice-looking little planet turned out to be the moon of a huge planet that loomed up out of the bottom of the screen. A very creditable little spaceship was pursued by a frickin' huge ship that appeared in the upper corner of the screen and just kept getting bigger.

The apertures of our brains had now been stretched wide open for marvels and wonders to be dropped in. I can't remember any other movie-watching experience where I so consciously felt myself relax, settle back, and in effect say "Do with me what you will."

I'm trying to remember now what astonished us most. There was the sheer grubbiness of Lucas's universe: things looked used. There was the glorious complexity of creation: many planets, many peoples, many sentient species. The bar scene in Mos Eisley, da dayenu. The beautiful lyrical moment when Luke is watching the suns set, which exactly nailed one of core emotional responses to SF.

Then they left Tattooine, and after that it was all plot hugger-mugger, old tropes skiffied-up and beautifully executed, all of it at that falling-down-the-rabbit-hole pace.

I tell you, we were ravished. Amazed. The world was changed. I can still remember that, even after the disappointments of the first two backstory films.

#70 ::: annetten ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 08:11 AM:

The Narnia series. I loved them as a kid, but when I read the final book, I realized that the whole thing was written, not to tell me a story, but to convert me to Christianity. I had never felt so cheated in my entire life before, and still haven't forgiven Lewis.

#71 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 08:12 AM:

Matt McIrvin said: About Star Wars: You know, a lot of that excitement isn't anything about the movie or the world, it's just being young. I was nine in 1977--absolutely, positively the perfect age to be when Star Wars burst forth upon the world. But there were a lot of things that stank about being nine, so I don't think I'd go back.

I wouldn't go back to childhood, either, but I was -1 when Star Wars came out. That means I was 20 when Ep1 came out, younger than half my friends were when Star Wars came out. Did it save me, or rather, did it save the movie for me? No. There are larger things wrong with that movie than the age of its viewers.

After reading a few authors who "broke" their work for me, I'm always grateful when a childhood favorite stands up to a reread 10-15 years later. Lloyd Alexander's Westmark trilogy is still the trilogy I fell in love with when I was 8. Knowing more about various real-world revolutions -- and more about dialog, character development, etc. -- does not ruin these books for me. I had reread enough disappointments by the time I got to Westmark that I was almost frightened to open it, but Alexander did not let me down retroactively. Whew.

#72 ::: Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 08:41 AM:

Scott Lynch: You may be the only person who knows about the last few books in the dekalogy without having been ordered to read them.

#73 ::: DM SHERWOOD ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 09:12 AM:

Interesting I Always was aware that Fladery,like say most of Zelazny's hero's, was not a man you'd want to meet in R/L.
Maybe STARSHIP TROOPER for me.

#74 ::: antukin ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 09:16 AM:

annetten wrote: "The Narnia series ...when I read the final book, I realized that the whole thing was written, not to tell me a story, but to convert me to Christianity."

Hunh. Funny, for me it was almost the exact opposite. "The Last Battle" was my introduction to religious plurality. The idea that goodness is shared among religions and not the sole province of just the one.

Granted, that may or may not be what CS Lewis was trying to say, but that's what I took from it.

#75 ::: antukin ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 09:24 AM:

Jude wrote: "Granted nearly everyone has commented on how truly bad The Da Vinci Code is, but the protagonist really is one of the worst cases of onanistic fantasy I've seen on paper in awhile."

Exactly.

I can't figure out why the movie version is attracting such a talented cast.

#76 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 09:41 AM:

On Perez-Reverte: The Club Dumas is a lot of fun, a good literary mystery that makes you want to run out and read The Three Muskateers. I hesitate to even mention that the Nineth Gate is based on this book, because it's a weird movie. Polanski took one of the subplots and made it a mystical horror story. With Johnny Depp. So it's fun and wacky but not nearly as intricate as the book on which it was loosely based.

As for Star Wars: I ranted about that on my own blog over the weekend. All I have to say is it's over. The End.

#77 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 09:43 AM:

Speaking of the Narnia books, is everyone else here disgusted with the revisionist history that is being promulgated claiming that Lewis wanted the books to be read in "internal chronological order" (that is, The Magician's Nephew first rather than sixth)? True, he said they could be read in that order, or any order one wanted. However, while he was alive nobody tried to put them in that order. And if one is not completely style-deaf, it's obvious that he learned a lot about writing for kids between TLTW&TW and MN, so much that the transition back to that way-too-cute starting style is enough to stop at least this reader dead in his tracks. Took me years to finish the series because of that.

Stupid marketing tricks. Outright lies in publishing. Grumble.

#78 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 09:44 AM:

Tom Whitmore wrote:
The first book in any Piers Anthony series is well worth reading. There are new ideas, pretty good storytelling, and a bunch of engaging writing. The series degenerate into formula with nothing new at different rates.

This is an excellent observation, now that I think about it. The first book in the Incarnations of Immortality series, On a Pale Horse, was a terrific book. It was a fantasy book in a science fiction world, and I remember that threw me for a nice little loop. (Alas, the future setting never resurfaced in the series.) And I really dug Tarot, even if I was the only one anywhere who did.

I said "No further comment," but hell, everyone else is doing it, and I want to let this out. What broke Anthony for me wasn't a Xanth novel, but the final Incarnations book, And Eternity. There's a lot to be said against this book -- I found it sacrilegious and I'm an agnostic, for cryin' out loud -- but the "I cannot forgive this author" moment happened halfway through. There's a scene where these two young women, on their quest to figure out where God is and why He hasn't showed up for work in millennia, are traveling to the demesne of Nox, the Incarnation of Night. It's a difficult road and there's a lot of rock climbing.

Meanwhile Nox is screwing with them. She turns one of the girls into a man. And then, because she's now a man, she rapes her friend.

A page or two later and all is set right. She's female again, and her friend forgives her because, after all, that's just how men are. They both thank Nox for the educational experience.

I was sixteen. I was still trying to figure out for myself what being male was about, and this insult made me angry on a very deep instinctive level. It's the only book I have ever literally thrown across the room. I haven't read a Piers Anthony novel since then, and I have decided it would be weakly immoral to give the man any more of my money.

#79 ::: MW ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 09:51 AM:

Jude said: "Granted nearly everyone has commented on how truly bad The Da Vinci Code is, but the protagonist really is one of the worst cases of onanistic fantasy I've seen on paper in awhile."

Word. The other thing so few people (in person or online) talk about is the book's sexism. The female character does a couple cool things to establish her as a code-breaker, and then stands around being the object of the hero's desires and the reader's stand-in for the alternate history lesson. Where am I? Oh yeah: The Tempest.

And this is supposed to be a book about the sacred feminine? Please.

#80 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 10:51 AM:

My wife and son enoyed The Da Vinci Code. It left me cold during the first sentence, and I read no more. It is a blatant "telling, not showing" error that warned me of Gary Stu.

Clive Staples Lewis [1898-1963] intentionally made himself inseparable from Christianity. His conversion of J. R. R. Tolkien went sideways. But, though I am nominally Jewish, I loved his books, and still do.

Piers Anthony is capable, I think, of writing another book as bizarre and remarkable as Macroscope, but he suffers from the same disease (no, not his diabetes) as Star Trek or Star Wars novelists: the SF-Lite pays far more than the Science Fiction. Hey, he's a professional.

Yes, I was wowed at superficial levels by Star Wars, but immediately warned everyone that it would set back the field by 50 years, which it did. I still consider "2001: A Space Odyssey" to be the best Science Fiction film of all time, with several others slightly below, such as the original (not remake!) of Solaris. I had long dicussions about Star Wars, on the technical side, with John Whitney, Sr., who won a technical Oscar for the crawling title sequence, and who is considered the father of Computer Graphics in Hollywood. His son is responsible for "The Last Starfighter" which is separated at birth from "Ender's Game." I have a T-shirt of "Ender's Game" from Caltech's most recent Ditch Day. It's hero has similarities with other protagonists discussed in this subthread.

#81 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 11:01 AM:

Jonathan Vos Post wrote:

Clive Staples Lewis [1898-1963] intentionally made himself inseparable from Christianity. His conversion of J. R. R. Tolkien went sideways.

You've got that a bit awry. Tolkien was a devout Catholic, in part because he believed his mother was martyred for her decision to become Catholic. Tolkien successfully converted the then agnostic Lewis, to the extent that Lewis returned to the Ulster protestantism of his Irish childhood and the Anglican church, though Tolkien of course would have preferred that Lewis become a Catholic.

#82 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 11:09 AM:

Mr. Bill, I'll speak in defense of Heinlein's _Friday_. I don't know what you mean when you say it's a summation of Heinlein's philosophy or "selfishness and arrogance made literal".

To my mind it's about how any amount of competence won't do you much good in the face of prejudice, especially if it's internalized.

I can go into detail after I'm back from Balticon, but for now I'll just say that it was a very miniscule happy ending she got, and she's only toned down the self-denigration, not eliminated it.

#83 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 11:11 AM:

Lisa Spangenberg:

I stand corredcted, having been rotated somewhere between 90 and 180 degrees by you, to the proper posture. As a result, God had a vision of me. And I died on the cross for Jesus. And I sat in the front row when Buddha lectured under the Bo Tree, and said: "Hey, is that gonna be on the final exam?"

#84 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 11:20 AM:

Tom asked: "Speaking of the Narnia books, is everyone else here disgusted with the revisionist history that is being promulgated claiming that Lewis wanted the books to be read in "internal chronological order" (that is, The Magician's Nephew first rather than sixth)?"

Yep. Peter Schakel's book _Imagination and the arts in C.S. Lewis : journeying to Narnia and other worlds_ has a good section on why you should read them in the order written. One of the arguments that stuck with me is that the Lamppost, when first encountered if you read LWW first, is an anachronistic wonder preparing you for the otherworldliness of Narnia. If you read MW first and find out the origin of the Lamppost before you read LWW, what you get is recognition -- "oh, yeah, I know how that got there" -- which is an entirely different effect. Aslan too should be entirely new and wonderful when you read LWW, to get the full effect on the Pevensie children. And I think the Creation may be more effective if you read about the Deep Magic and Aslan's sacrifice first, though maybe that's just me. There's a tragedy and mystery to the Creation when you know Aslan has to be aware it must include the sacrifice later.

Well, at least they are filming the movies in the "correct" order-of-publication order!

#85 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 11:31 AM:

I recently re-read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Even as a kid I knew it was a christian allegory, so I was very surprised upon reading it again to find a significant theological fudge. In the bible, Jesus is betrayed by a human and subsequently killed by humans. In Narnia, Aslan (avatar of Jesus) is betrayed by a human and subsequently killed by the White Witch (avatar of Satan). So Lewis lets humanity off the hook for that, which is a HUGE cheat, if you're trying to teach Christianity. Satan didn't kill Jesus; we did.

I also can't stand the thing in The Horse and his Boy where Aslan claws the girl's back, to punish her for letting the servant girl be whipped. A pretty old-testament moment for Aslan there.

#86 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 11:46 AM:

Mary Dell: I always thought Aslan did that to teach her compassion. I admit, it's been years since I read it.

#87 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 12:03 PM:

TexAnne...it's been a while since I read that particular one, too, but I think you're right about the compassion thing. Still, Jesus mainly taught people by, like, talking to them, rather than injuring them.

Come to think of it, Aslan always seemed kind of mean and scary to me, for a Christ figure, anyway. Not that that's necessarily theologically invalid, but it's an unusual aspect of God to present to children.

#88 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 12:32 PM:

S.E. said:

To put it another way: you don't need to write yourself to get into a character's head, and minor similarities are more than enough to give a writer his or her foothold.

Exactly. This is why I find myself with a bit of a sheepish grin at the whole Sue/Stu thing--just because I've found that both in my roleplaying experience and in my writing experience, a little piece of me gets into all the characters. The challenge for me has been to learn how to then let that character become his or her own person.

Really, if someone just starting out writes nothing but Sues and Stus, it's not a big deal. We've all done it. I spent years upon years doing it before I learned better. However, when someone has got five or six novels under his/her belt, the tendency should be gone.

Let me make a general note of that as a goal to shoot for by the time I write my fifth or sixth novel. ^_^

#89 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 12:39 PM:

Mary: again, all this is what my preadolescent self got out of it, but I was very impressed by all the repetitions of "he isn't a tame lion!" And then there's "I will return not as a lamb but as a lion." Which is, of course, where Lewis got the idea.

#90 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 12:59 PM:

Reshuffling the order of the Narnia books: just plain wrong.

#91 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 01:18 PM:

I was a _Star Wars_ early adopter.

Early in 1977, I spotted the novelization in a local drug store. Purple cover with a looming Darth Vader head, crude painting of Skywalker, Wookie, droids underneath. "Soon to be a major motion picture!" on the back, with a plot summary that made even me, at 16, cringe. (I had already gotten a head-full of Niven and Heinlein and Olaf Stapledon for cripes sake.)

I put the book back on the rack.

Then, a few days later, I saw the theatrical trailer.

_Holy F**k&&g C#$p_.

It's hard to describe how utterly cool and slick it looked. It was very understated and unbombastic. As I recall, it just showed snippets of the film. That's all it needed to do.

I bought the novelization (an edition worth a pretty penny these days) ASAP and thought it was "eh!", and while recognizing the silly bits was utterly wowed by the film itself.

But as Teresa sez, it changed everything.

#92 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 01:29 PM:

Like many here, I saw Star Wars at the impressionable age of seven; and, well, it made its impression. We lived in the boondocks then (or, well, what passes for boondocks, I suppose), and it was a good hour drive into "the city" to get to the nearest movie theater.

I don't remember how many times that summer my dad took me back to that theater to watch it again. A lot, for sure. It was a magic summer.

Many, many years later, when I was in graduate school struggling to complete my thesis, I had coffee with my mom. I expressed my amazement to her that she had researched and written her doctoral thesis while raising a toddler. "Well," she said. "Whenever I needed time to work, I'd have Dad take you to see Star Wars again."

#93 ::: Piscusfiche ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 01:32 PM:

Steve: I kinda lump the very large babies in with the implausible pregnancy situations.

Graydon: I certainly could justify Padme's stupor-inducing role in Episode III just the way you describe, but it's still inconsistent with her age, position, power, galaxial mores as shown in the other movies, and character as also shown in the other two movies. Nobody is going to force a Senator to reveal who the father is. (And if it's something we learn from one of the books, or cartoons, or whatever, I don't count that as knowledge. The movie should be operating from the position that we HAVEN'T tracked down all supplemental media.) In any case, it's requiring me to stretch my already thinly stretched suspension of disbelief a little further. And that's my point. After a while, one goes, I just can't believe this any more. After all, belief that takes THAT MUCH WORK is a sign of a poorly done job.

On Narnia: I had no idea until the chronological order gits arrived on the scene that people wanted to make rules about the way one reads any series. That said, I do prefer publishers order for artistic reasons. I think that the juxtaposition of the birth and death of Narnia is essential for book seven to make a full impact. Also--the Magician's Nephew doesn't make a very good first book. Without the preceding books, the creation of Narnia is merely a prologue.

#94 ::: Piscusfiche ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 01:35 PM:

BTW, I saw Star Wars seven or eight times in the year that it came out. I took it as mother's milk, because that's precisely what I was doing while my parents watched the movies. I was apparently a very quiet baby in the movie theatre as long as it was Star Wars.

#95 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 01:39 PM:

Theresa exactly captures the way the original _Star Wars_ was for me. I was working at MIT then, and several of us had seen an ad for the movie before it opened. It looked like a decent bet so we hopped over to Boston's Charles theatre for the first opening day showing (or possibly the second, hmm).

The moment when the giant spaceship comes on-screen did it for me, and then the lived-in look of the future cemented it.

It's really hard today to capture how revolutionary it all was, since it has become the standard look of SF films. (Has anyone done the old _Things to Come_ antiseptic future successfully since?)

#96 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 02:04 PM:

I was twelve years and one day old when I saw Star Wars. I know this, because my parents asked, "What do you want to do for your birthday?" And the trailer came on tv, for a film opening at the local cinema the day after my birthday, and I said, "It's not until after my birthday, but I want to see _that_."

It was not the first sf film I'd seen. Long, long ago, in the days before DVD, in the days before VCRs, one could rent an actual celluloid film, and an actual projector to run it on if necessary, and thus it was that I saw 2001 as a home movie, probably when I was about eight or nine, and I can remember that even at that age it had an impact on me. And then there were the endless Japanese monster movies on Saturday afternoons at the Scout Hall, which were enormous fun, and enjoying scaring myself with late night Friday showings of the old Hammer Horror films on tv, and the old Flash Gordon serials repeated on tv on Saturday morning, and on and on and on.

But Star Wars is one of the few from that time where I can still *feel*, can still play back in my mind, the sensawunda I felt, not just remember that I felt it at the time. I looked at that screen, and I knew that it was drawing on a lot of stuff I already loved, that none of this was particularly original. But it was put together brilliantly, by someone who loved those sources as much as I did, someone who had the special effects resources that took an enormous burden off the disbelief suspenders. I loved it, and I am so grateful that I first saw it at exactly the right age for me to get maximum pleasure out of it.

(And then Blake's 7 came along, and I discovered that what I really, really, *really* liked was dystopian sf, and screw the special effects as long as it had a good script and good actors. :-)

#97 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 02:30 PM:

Okay, zen moment of internet cross-connect. Partway down this article, in the section on visual disconnects in the movies, is an analysis of later Woody Allen movies as painful exercises in Gary-Stu-ism (although they don't use that term). Not a new observation by any means, but this may explain what happens to once-fun authors who have fallen prey to the syndrome:

"Back when he had a sense of humor, he made that disconnect with attractive women a source of laughs (and intentional squirms). But by his later movies, his celebrity had fogged his brain. He just acted entitled."

(Thanks for putting the instructions for tags & bold & stuff below the text box! Trying them out for the first time here...)

#98 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 02:31 PM:

Hm, didn't work for me. http://slate.msn.com/id/2119620/nav/ais/nav/ais/ is the article.

#99 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 02:34 PM:

Star Wars: Does anyone else remember this? Way back in 1975, when I was 11, My Weekly Reader did an article on special effects. In a sidebar, there was a tiny photograph of an enormous, strange-looking beast surrounded by seemingly tiny men, under the heading "What Is It?" The photo's caption read (roughly): "It's called a tauntaun. And it's not a real animal--it's a special effect for a new movie called Star Wars, currently being filmed by director George Lucas." After two years of waiting, I was way beyond psyched when Star Wars finally opened, and started to burn out shortly thereafter.

Narnia: When I figured out it was a Christian allegory, I made the mistake of sharing my "theory" with my (Jewish) friend Pete, who was also a big fan. He called me a liar, we had a big fight, and I've had a Cassandra complex ever since. (This also happened in 1975. Hmm....)

On the original topic: When I was 18, National Lampoon published a parody of Stephen King called "Eggboiler" (about a girl with the power to boil eggs with her mind). It was so brilliantly done that it not only ruined Stephen King for me, but the whole subgenre of doorstop-sized horror novels.

#100 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 02:46 PM:

Fixed it, Janet. I think you may have misread the instructions. Just do standard HTML links.

#101 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 04:08 PM:

Thanks, Teresa. I think I see what I did wrong now.

#102 ::: Karen K ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 04:21 PM:

Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 11:31 AM:

I also can't stand the thing in The Horse and his Boy where Aslan claws the girl's back, to punish her for letting the servant girl be whipped. A pretty old-testament moment for Aslan there.

I kinda liked it, because it was an unusual reaction for a Good God when dealing with a follower. Like, the servant girl was obviously a spear carrier (we don't even meet her), and an unsympathetic one (she tried to obstruct the heroine from running away, and not because she loved the heroine). Yet Aslan punishes the heroine because she deliberately acted in such a way to get the unsympathetic spear carrier punished. At least in the books I've read, it's quite unusual for heroes to get punished for lying or otherwise being nasty to unsympathetic spear carriers who show up for one page. More often it seems like Good Gods approve of deceiving etc. unsympathetic characters, because if they don't recognize the specialness of the hero, that's proof that they're not anyone the Good God(dess) cares about. (Or maybe it just seems that way because when I see it, I find it very annoying).

#103 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 04:57 PM:

Up the thread aways:

Lloyd Alexander's Westmark trilogy

Oh God yes!

(meaning, it is so good)

#104 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 05:00 PM:

I believe that's the usual translation.

#105 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 05:22 PM:

On Narnia:

I seem to remember C.S. Lewis arguing that the mainstream Christianity of England that children heard about effectively made Jesus into someone who was bland, and kind, and peaceful, and pretty boring. So it would take (Lewis thought) a different, more wild image of the divine to make any impression on children.

It occurs to me that a lot of fundamentalist wackiness might be in reaction to some tendencies in liberal christianity to say that God is Nice, ignoring that Nice isn't the same as Good. But that hardly means that Scary and Sadistic is the same as Good...

Back on topic, my loss of suspension happened with Anne McCaffrey. I devoured nearly all her books when I was 12-14, started in on some of the non-Pern stuff (Rowan?), and realized that they were kind of bad. Haven't looked back since.

#106 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 05:34 PM:

The first SF novel I read may well have been The Trial of Terra by Jack Williamson. I mentioned that when I met him. He flinched. I promised him I'd never looked at it since; nor do I intend to ever do so. The book I remember is breathtakingly strange and wonderful, and I don't want to lose it.

What fascinates me about this whole subject is the magnitude of the backlash: you don't just lose the book you're reading, you also lose all that author's books you've previously read. I'm told the same thing happens with comic books: at some point your patience snaps, and suddenly you can never read Spiderman again. One comics seller told me that sometimes you can't read any mainstream comics again.

That interests me extremely. There's something to be learned there about the way we read, if a surfeit of one title or one author can take out our taste for closely related works.

#107 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 05:38 PM:

I was 25 when SW came out. God I feel old.

MKK

#108 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 05:46 PM:

>That interests me extremely. There's something
>to be learned there about the way we read, if a
>surfeit of one title or one author can take out
>our taste for closely related works.

Teresa,

I think it was "Brief History of Everything" by Ken Wilbur that talked about a psychological development experiment. Psychologists did simple experiments such as showing a kid a ball that is white on one half, black on the other, then they'd turn the ball so the kid could only see white and ask them what color did the doctor (who was on the opposite side of teh ball) see. They found up to a certain age, kids pretty much answer that the doctor sees the same color as them, and then there's a point where kids just suddenly "blammo" and the "get it", and answer the other color.

Apparently, the doctors video taped the questioning over the years and would ask the same kids year after year until they passed the tests to see what age the "blammo" occurred.

Anyway, kids who didn't "get it" last year, but "got it" this year, would be shown last years tape, and the kids would often not believe the tape, they couldn't see their own change and couldn't understand how they could have gotten something so simple wrong. Some accused the psychologists of doctoring the tapes.

It isn't about the way we read, but it is about reaching that point where someone rejects something they held as true, to the point that they can't remember it as true, and purge any memory of it from their mind.

Greg

#109 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 05:54 PM:

MKK - since I've been spending a lot of my time reading LiveJournal lately, I'm having exactly the opposite reaction. Suddenly I *don't* feel quite so old!

#110 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 06:03 PM:

I still shamelessly like the Narnia books, Christian Allegory and all, and I did even when I seriously considered declaring myself a Pagan. (Which was a phase, if so, that lasted around 10 years, though I was turned off the Wiccan branch thereof very quickly.) I've read them in just about any order you could choose, and I've been glad how much my favourites have survived over the years, and my less favourites have gained more meaning over time (Even in those cases where the style is a bit wonky)

Except the Last Battle, which, in spite of some individual spots I liked (I'm with the person above who spotted the bit about religious plurality - one of the book's redeeming features is the moment we finally meet a GOOD Calormene), always slightly perturbed me. That one has done the opposite, and weathered badly, but it wasn't until WFC in Minneapolis I caught onto why, when Niel Gaiman made a remark about how badly structured the book was if you considered it as a novel, and I thought, wow, is he right. The story and structure both are bent to serve its allegorical purpose, where in the others, the aspect were balanced off.

And, since I reminded myself, even in my most open to paganism moments, I was always turned off by books whose entire point was how good goddess worship and earth-mothering is, and how bad Christianity, the Maker of wars and dictatorial patriarchy, just as much as by books which purported to be all about how Chrisitanity was the one and only.

Although the book that turned me off one author bugged me because in many respects, it's a well written and fairly good book. That being Mercedes Lackey's the Black Swan.

When I read it, I started out quite liking where she was going with the story, and thinking it was an improvement on her prior work. There were fewer blatant lectures than she's prone to, the prose was mostly smooth, and the changes she put in the original fairy-tale characters looked like they were going places.

Then I started noting ways in which it was SCA medieval, not real medieval. Well, okay, I could go with that, since I'm not so good at real medieval myself (yet. Working on it...). Besides, she's never been that good at giving people non-modern attitudes, it's not what I look for in her work.

Then the male protagonist rapes a woman. Squick, but she does start setting things up to show how he realises just what a bad thing he's done, and puts him on the path to being a better person. Difficult to do, but I was willing to hold off.

Then he meets the love of his life. And she falls for him, but she then admits to a whole series of crimes and deceptions in her past. Partly because she has to, plot wise, but partly because she also believes the whole thing should not be based on a false impression. And he pardons her the parts that need to be pardoned, and points out the places she was perhaps not as wicked as she thought, and all is well, and she's redeemed. And so far, even that's okay. (Forgiveness for past crimes, sincerely repented, is one of the big themes of the whole book, and all the villains are the ones who hide their feelings and lie about their motives)

BUT HE NEVER TELLS HER WHAT HE'S DONE. She never finds out, she never has a chance to judge the person she asked to judge her, and the person she opened up to never opens up in his turn.

And somehow, we're supposed to swallow that, too.

I did finish the book, but that one thing made it a lot easier to trade away not just that one, but almost all of her books.

#111 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 06:16 PM:

Star Wars: I was 9. I had a lightsaber. I wanted to be a Jedi. I was hooked from the moment That Music started.

(This midichlorian business really ticks me off, BTW. How come all of a sudden heroes need to have the right bloodline? What made the Force wonderful to me was that is was just THERE for anyone who would trust it.)

Narnia: Someone in my High School English class was doing a report on them, and I whispered to the girl next to me "Did you know these books are a metaphor for the Bible?"
:Shocked look. Reflective pause: "Well, I like 'em anyway,"

I've always liked 'em anyway. Still do.

#112 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 06:31 PM:

Teresa: In the entry you've linked to, you say:

Someday, not today, I’ll tell the story of how, years ago, Joanna Russ and I used Star Trek fanfic as a sort of Rosetta Stone to decipher recurrent themes and motifs in fantasy and SF written by women. It’s often easier to see underlying patterns and mechanisms in amateur fiction than in slicker commercial work. This started when Joanna identified and described some recurrent narrative motifs she’d spotted in the Trek slash of the day, of which the inverse relationship between incidence of explicit sex and liebestod denouements was the most obvious and least important. There was much more to it. She laid out her entire description; and I, considering it, said “Which is not to say that The Left Hand of Darkness is a specimen of Star Trek slash fiction.” Joanna’s jaw dropped, and we stared at each other in wild surmise. The patterns not only fitted; they explained some otherwise inexplicable plot twists in that novel. We were on to something. And—hey! What about thus-and-such story by Zenna Henderson? And that one by Leigh Brackett? And so forth and so on, ever onward. For the next few weeks we were stoned on literary theory and the codebreaker’s buzz of seeing a seemingly knotty puzzle resolve into plaintext.

Have you told that story somewhere since then? If not, I would really love to read it. It sounds fascinating.

#113 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 07:02 PM:

Lenora, my problem with The Last Battle was a lot more juvenile than its structure. It's not even that I'm disturbed by its theology. It's that I never had any reason to believe that the first Narnia wasn't eternal and brighter-than-life and filled with wonder, so when we get to the second one at the end, I can't believe it's the "really true lasting one" any more. Narnia was already not like Earth. So this new Narnia was not like Earth some more? So what? This Lewis fellow had still demonstrated that he was willing to pave paradise, and I wasn't going to settle in for another round.

So, like the last four or five pages of Silver on the Tree, it is non-canonical in my own little head.

#114 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 07:10 PM:

I think you're on to something, Teresa. Ever since I earned a degree in Comics (that'd be "Sequential Art", thank yuu) I haven't been able to stomach a mainstream comic book. Closest, I can get is Hellboy or the old Sandman reprints.

Oddly enough, I've thoroughly enjoyed both Spiderman and X-Men films and am looking forward to the third installment of both, as well as the new Batman and Superman movies. I think the difference is that their is a concentrated effort ont he part of the filmmakers to strip away all the accumulation of week story elements that have accumulated over forty odd years and just tell The Story of Whomever.

Perhaps one daY, someone will do that with Star Wars, make one really good film by culling the story elements from all six that work reasonably well and fixing the rest.

#115 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 07:24 PM:

Neat essay on why fans diddle and fret over the fine details of fictional universes:

The Science of Consistency

#116 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 08:25 PM:

It isn't always even a bad book that does it. When I was in high school, I adored P. G. Wodehouse's books and read every one I could get my hands on, which was a lot, but by no means all. When I got to college, I discovered that the library there had them ALL. That first semester, I had a wonderful time reading my way through the ones I had missed. They were great, but I seem to have overdosed; I've rarely picked one up since. (And yes, I'm a re-reader.)

--Mary Aileen

#117 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 09:29 PM:

Teresa, maybe it's like food allergies, where you can develop a sensitivity thru overexposure.

Actually, I think it's a version of falling out of love. As you read one book after another by the same author, you gain an intimate knowledge of their style and formula. Where it works, it works - like falling in love with the right person. When I read Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books, I'm happy every time he trots out one of his particular cliches. Likewise Larry Niven - I re-read all of the Known Space books every few years, and while I don't think they're all fabulous, I still love them, and easily forgive their flaws, because they make me happy on a deep level.

Where it doesn't work, it's like falling in love with the wrong person, and then moving in with them, and realizing that those little things that were sort of endearing at first have become Big Issues that make you want to stick a pen in their eye. Early in the relationship you think "hm, always wearing socks, even when supposedly "naked"...I guess that's kind of cute" but when you get to the end of the road it's "what is it with you and the *^$&^% socks? Did your custodial parent damage you that badly? C'mere and gimme that damn sock so I can garotte you with it!"

Thus, also, with authors who aren't quite right for you. Familiarity breeds contempt.

#118 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 09:54 PM:

Melissa Mead said:

(This midichlorian business really ticks me off, BTW. How come all of a sudden heroes need to have the right bloodline? What made the Force wonderful to me was that is was just THERE for anyone who would trust it.)

AMEN. And not to mention that trying to kludge a scientific 'explanation' onto the Force completely ruined its mysticism. The Force really did not need to be 'explained'.

#119 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 11:06 PM:

This thread is like a museum of alien thought for me, because I don't think I've ever had the experience of catastrophically and retroactively losing all ability to appreciate an artist simply because they committed a lousy piece of art.

#120 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 11:14 PM:

Scott Lynch: You may be the only person who knows about the last few books in the dekalogy without having been ordered to read them.

And y'know, the damnable thing is that I can't think back on them without feeling some of what Teresa described concerning The Trial of Terra. As long as I don't go back and actually re-read all the stupid things, in one irrational corner of my mind they'll always be these vast, cool, colorful epics that introduced me to so many aspects of plot, character, story arc, and science fiction in general.


#121 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 11:24 PM:

Midichlorians have -- to my mind -- a simple explanation as useful indicator parasites.

They don't indicate ability to use the Force, only how much of it you do use.

(Yes, yes, I know that somewhere it's canon that you need midichlorians to be a Force sensitive. I don't care.)

#122 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 12:01 AM:

I've had the loss of suspension experience in reverse. I first saw 2001 as a kid. It never really meant that much to me, except it was SF and it looked good. When, as a cynical adult, I got my first DVD player, I picked up a copy of the film. Boy, it sure made a lot more sense when I could figure out that we were the bad guys.

#123 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 12:09 AM:

(For me at least)

It's not so much losing the ability to appreciate an artist because of one bad piece of art. One bad piece of art usually doesn't dent my appreciation of the artist.

For me, it's that the art in question is bad in general, though immaturity blinds me to this--and it just takes a single slightly sub-par example of it to nakedly reveal all its flaws and make me wonder why I ever liked it in the first place.

#124 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 12:23 AM:

"For me, it's that the art in question is bad in general, though immaturity blinds me to this--and it just takes a single slightly sub-par example of it to nakedly reveal all its flaws and make me wonder why I ever liked it in the first place."

"Immaturity" is a loaded term. Is there something inherently vile about being young? Do young people not have needs? Don't they put art to uses of their own just like other kinds of humans? Don't they need to? Is there something repellent about this? Is there something embarrassing about having once been young?

#125 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 03:07 AM:

HP said: Way back in 1975, when I was 11, My Weekly Reader did an article on special effects. In a sidebar, there was a tiny photograph of an enormous, strange-looking beast surrounded by seemingly tiny men, under the heading "What Is It?" The photo's caption read (roughly): "It's called a tauntaun. And it's not a real animal--it's a special effect for a new movie called Star Wars, currently being filmed by director George Lucas."

The tauntauns were on Hoth, which didn't appear until The Empire Strikes Back. I'd doubt they had models of them in 1975, or would have used them over other special effects from the first movie, which would still have been in early development at that point. Is it possible your memory has side-slipped a few years, and the tauntaun piece was from 78 or so?

#126 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 05:28 AM:

I'm with Patrick, I think. I've read this thread with interest but honestly I can't think of any author who lost me completely for all works, past and future, by one bad work.

I mean, Laurell Hamilton? Never had me to begin with; I didn't even make it to the Anita Blake Does Dallas part of the series. Piers Anthony? Yeah, the Xanth books started to bore me after a while, but I still like some of the earlier ones, and I'm apparently unique in liking pretty much the entire Incarnations and Tarot serieseses. (WTF is the plural of series? Series?) Star Wars? Lost me because of the wait, and didn't regain me because of the reviews of Episode 1.

Someone I don't recall seeing mentioned: Stephen King. Lost me with Tommyknockers, regained me later after I got a replacement copy of... something, maybe The Shining, and there was a sample chapter for Needful Things in it. But even while I was 'lost', I still was re-reading the old stuff.

The closest I've come to being lost forever was Jack Chalker, and even that I occasionally re-read, if only for the same reason I watch surgery shows on cable (i.e., sick fascination).

Are there individual books by such authors I sha'n't read again? Heck, yeah; I'm never reading Tommyknockers again, for one, and it would take application of large sums of money or serious amounts of boredom to get me to read any Anita Blakeage again. But I re-read Salem's Lot and The Shining and all of King's short story collections on a regular basis, and if I knew where my collection of Incarnations... was, I'd probably re-read that right now (I think it's packed and in storage, alas) just because I haven't for a long time.

#127 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 06:44 AM:

Steve Eley: For my sins, I have also read ...And Eternity. Like you, I was disgusted by the sex-change scene. I don't remember it quite the same way as you, though. As I recall it, one of the women was changed into a man, and tried to rape her companion -- but the rape didn't happen, Nox changed her back before she could carry it through. And her friend didn't forgive her right away; she was shocked and horrified...until Nox changed her into a man, whereupon she proved equally unable to control her now-increased sex drive. (Thus bolstering the "that's just how men are" bit.)

Tina: Funny you should mention Jack Chalker. I was a fan of his writing when I was in high school, albeit I found certain themes a bit disquieting, especially in the way they constantly recurred. The breaking point for me was Downtiming the Night Side, where Chalker took a perfectly interesting time travel novel and shoehorned yet another nymphomaniac prostitute transformation into it. At that point it became obvious to me that either he was displaying some fairly serious psychological issues, or else he was pandering; and in either case I could not respect his writing.

(I have reproduced that last sentence pretty much as I thought of it at the time; ironically enough, the sentence is strongly influenced by one of Piers Anthony's.)

#128 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 10:04 AM:

Poul Anderson's writing isn't dead to me, but... but.

Is there a word that means "enjoyable after personal analysis"?

#129 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 10:26 AM:

Patrick said: "Immaturity" is a loaded term. Is there something inherently vile about being young? Do young people not have needs? Don't they put art to uses of their own just like other kinds of humans? Don't they need to? Is there something repellent about this? Is there something embarrassing about having once been young?

Well, yes, sometimes. I'm sure we all can recall a crushing moment of disillusionment, when we discovered that we'd trusted the wrong person, that our affections weren't returned the way we thought, that we'd crafted our lives around a mistaken belief, etc. Personally, I'm always embarrassed for myself when I think about those moments. That's the nature of being young, being vulnerable to naive mistakes, and I certainly found it inherently vile. Which is not to say that young people don't have wonderful things to offer, including that freshness and lack of cynicism, but I spent my youth wishing I was grown up.

As it applies to literature, here's my take on it. I discovered SF thru Larry Niven, back when I was a frantic, despairing adolescent. His books introduced a new idea into my thinking, although it took me years to consciously recognize it. That idea was that any trap is escapable, if you can learn to understand its workings. I was trapped in the way of many young people - living under the same roof as a sexual predator, without a frame of reference to tell me what was wrong about that. So his books taught me that my brain would help me out of it, if I just learned to understand what was happening. That gave me hope. Years later, I started to notice various flaws in his work, but the fundamental underpinning of his stories is one I admire so much that he could write utter dreck and I'd still like him as an author. (And in fact, I really loved Ringworld's Children, and it contains that same theme of salvation through knowledge, so he's doing fine in my opinion).

Meanwhile, Piers Anthony was bringing out about 4 books a month back in the early 80's, and I ate them up, like most SF-loving teens. The stories were often goofy, meandering, and repetitive, but I enjoyed them, and they were chock-full of sex, so I felt grown-up reading them. But as I got older and read more of them I began to analyze them, and realized that the sex they were full of was creepy as all hell. In fact, Bio of a Space Tyrant has whole sections devoted to glorifying exactly the kind of thing my shitty family member was doing to me. The protagonist changes the laws so he can have sex with a 13-year-old developmentally disabled girl; he marries up with pirates whose marriage ceremony is a formalized kidnap and rape, etc. etc.

So, I came to believe that a particularly repugnant conception of human sexuality is at the heart of Anthony's works, just as a glorification of the human intellect is at the heart of Niven's. Having, as I believe, recognized the core agenda of the work, I can no longer judge it by its surface. I'll never be able to read Anthony again without sensing that underlying agenda. Learning to analyze books on that level is part of getting older, and the price for that is that while our admiration of some works and authors may grow, we may also find that we don't like what certain authors are up to, and be permanently disillusioned about them.

#130 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 12:05 PM:

Mary Dell wrote:
Actually, I think it's a version of falling out of love. As you read one book after another by the same author, you gain an intimate knowledge of their style and formula. Where it works, it works - like falling in love with the right person

Yes, yes! Earlier on in the thread, Teresa wrote "Oh look, Francis has gotten hit on the head again," and it made me grin goofily, nod in acknowledgement, and say to myself "And I don't CARE." Yes, the author may be in love with her character. Yes, she might be shamelessly and repeatedly manipulating her audience. Yes, I rolled my eyes the last ten times I read the phrase "cornflower-blue eyes". But I love the flaws too.

I wonder how much it helps when the author knows when to stop? A few of the authors named in this thread Just Kept Writing, and that was when their readers, as Teresa put it, saw too far.

#131 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 12:21 PM:

With interest, I'm following everyone's mentions of various and sundry authors that they can't go back and re-read. Patrick's comment in particular got me thinking, too.

Where I fall into this seems to be that I've got authors for whom I've read a single work or a piece of a work, and disliked it violently enough that I won't go and pick up anything else by that author. One fantasy novel in particular was a "throw across the room" kind of deal where round about page 40-45 or so, the hero told the heroine that all she really needed was a good man in her life--and I bailed right there, and haven't touched anything else by that author.

My exposure to Chalker is limited, but I did try to start reading his Changewinds trilogy. I got as far as the protagonist deliberately arranging to take control of the character she doesn't like by triggering her transformation into a brainless blonde bimbette, realized I really didn't like that character, and fled.

Anthony... he's another author to whom I've had limited exposure. In fact, the only thing I can actually remember reading by him was a novelization of Total Recall, which I read only because I was writing a fanzine review for it at the time. It was so badly edited that I never felt moved to pick up anything else by him, despite being occasionally advised that he's written some good stuff. So far, I'm not seeing anything on this thread yet to make me change my mind.

But out of the authors I do actually regularly read, it's a harder call. I'm annoyed by the direction the Anita Blake books took, but I have yet to decide whether that's turned me away from ever re-reading the earlier ones (perhaps while pretending that the series stops at Obsidian Butterfly).

Anne McCaffrey annoyed me with her propensity for setting up all these wonderful strong female characters and then turning them into domestic gooey-eyed baby-making machines while their menfolk actually get to hold the positions of power (Menolly, Brekke, The Rowan, etc., and I'm convinced that the only reason Killashandra didn't start pumping out babies was because the Crystal Singers were established going in as unable to breed). But I'm not sure yet whether this has ruined my ability to ever re-read any of those books.

#132 ::: Andrew Debly ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 01:29 PM:

"Thus, also, with authors who aren't quite right for you. Familiarity breeds contempt."

An astute point. I'm currently reading J.K. Rowling's second Harry Potter book and am losing patience with the work. I do not have problems with the story but with her writing style. She writes almost entirely in the passive voice, she uses adverbs in describing how dialogue is spoken (e.g. “I don’t like that,” she said coldly.) and she uses every word under the sun for speaker attributions (“Oh Harry!” she spat/grimaced/barked/chortled etc.). All of those things irritate me. So why am I still reading the book? Because I want to understand what all of the fuss is about. Why are the Potter books such stellar successes? Perhaps it’s because her stories are good and because most people don’t have problems with her writing style like I do.


The photo's caption read (roughly): "It's called a tauntaun. And it's not a real animal--it's a special effect for a new movie called Star Wars, currently being filmed by director George Lucas."

The tauntauns were on Hoth, which didn't appear until The Empire Strikes Back.


I think the creature in question is either a dewback (the big lizard that the Storm Troopers rode) or a bantha (which the Sand People rode).


#133 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 03:49 PM:

Patrick, do they not bleed?

#134 ::: S. E. ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 05:40 PM:

Patrick wrote:

I don't think I've ever had the experience of catastrophically and retroactively losing all ability to appreciate an artist simply because they committed a lousy piece of art.

In my experience, at least, it hasn't been due to a lousy piece of art. Every artist creates something lousy once in a while. It's when an artist repeatedly creates lousy art, especially when I know he or she is working well below his/her abilities, that I start to lose respect.

Keep in mind, I consider editing an art, and an essential one for a writer to study. (In some ways, it's the art, while writing is the craft.) Part of the art is knowing what doesn't work. If a writer either refuses to learn or neglects to do it, after a while, I just can't read any more. While I appreciate Monet's sketches for what they are, they can't take the place of his finished paintings.

Sorry if this makes no sense. I was woken insanely early by fifteen pounds of affectionate cat.

#135 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 06:39 PM:

Short, shameful confession: Back in the 1980s, I thought music videos of the Bangles with Sussanna Hoffs were pretty hot. I loved when the camera did a close-up of her face and she looked seductive.

My girlfriend at the time pointed out that she always did the exact same thing during those close-ups. She turned her head slightly to the left and looked that way. She turned her head slightly to the right and looked that way. She looked directly at the camera with a slightly bowed head so she was looking up, through her lashes, and then she slowly lifted her head so she was looking directly at the camera.

Ruined the whole thing for me. After that, whenever I saw one of her videos, all I could think of was that left, right, down, up.

But I still walk like an Egyptian.

#136 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 08:56 PM:

"Immaturity" is a loaded term. Is there something inherently vile about being young? Do young people not have needs? Don't they put art to uses of their own just like other kinds of humans? Don't they need to? Is there something repellent about this? Is there something embarrassing about having once been young?

Well, perhaps it is a loaded term, but it's also a specific one -- immature means 'not done yet', 'unfinished', 'at an intermediate stage of a developmental series', and in that sense I think it is perfectly apropos to the discussion.

As a fifteen year old utter virgin, I didn't see -- could not have seen -- Niven's persistent portrayal of women as being really in control of everything sexual; I could be creeped out by Chalker's various compulsive themes, but I could not have put it into words why, because I didn't have the life experience to know what the words were.

The reader follows written instructions to make a story in their head; the difference between fifteen and thirty is a difference in what story gets constructed.

Some story-making instructions with good scope for fifteen fall into the holes of thirty's wider country. This is not a moral judgement of fifteen, thirty, or the story, but it is oft enough worth noting as a matter of literature.

#137 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 09:49 PM:

Mitch: Ruined the whole thing for me. After that, whenever I saw one of her videos, all I could think of was that left, right, down, up.

The same thing happened to me with Kirsten Dunst. I thought she was sexy in Spider-man, but in Spider-man 2, I realized she was simply closing her eyes part-way. Then I got mad at her for misleading me, and then I just felt silly.

#138 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 10:18 PM:

Graydon:

I am not being Oedipal here, but, re: "Niven's persistent portrayal of women as being really in control of everything sexual" -- he's in a family with very strong women. Plus, I think he understands Darwin better than most authors. I'm not oversimplifying in saying that he's right, but I am even more certainly not saying he's wrong. Didn't Jane Austen suggest the same thing, from a different theoretical basis? And how does this affect your reading pleasure?

Now, this is really silly: if Magic turned out to be real, would Fantasy based on some other, fictional, system of Magic be less or more interesting to read? This relates to whether old Science Fiction -- with jungles on Venus, or canals on Mars -- can be enjoyed in the light of robotic and modern telescopic observation.

Note that it is Voyager 1, 8.7 billion miles from Earth, which has officially left the Solar System, now on the far side of the Termination Shock. The one I worked with, Voyager 2, is still inside the Solar Wind. Both will eventually penetrate the Heliosheath, then the Heliopause, and emerge into the interstellar medium, albeit complicated by the Bow Shock.

Who was it again who didn't believe in Interstellar travel? We already have Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, Voyage 1, and Voyager 2 on such missions. Just slowly enough for Mundane novels, eh?

#139 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 10:33 PM:

Jonathan --

It detracts from my reading pleasure by being consistent across all time and space, which spoils the illusion of completeness.

It's very difficult to write about things outside your -- generic 'your' -- experience in a way that's convincing to people who have those things inside their experience. (Not impossible. See The Red Badge of Courage.)

Everyone knows that one, but there's also the more subtle version involved in not noticing where the edges of your experience are, and this is what I think Niven falls into on that angle.

#140 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 11:01 PM:

Graydon:

"Not impossible." Quite so. Add Arthur Rimbaud's "Le bateau ivre" or the early Westerns written by folks who'd never made it as far West as the Mississippi.

For me, a lot of older Science Fiction -- mostly American -- is ruined by projecting local contemporary lifestyle into distant past or future, with no real changes but those padded shoulders. It's funny in "The Flintstones" or "The Jetsons" but bathetic in so-called serious fiction.

There's a killer review in the current New York Review of Science Fiction which hoists Neal Stephenson on that petard.

Hey, director's cut of Bladerunner on network TV tonight...

#141 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 11:20 PM:

Mitch - Aaargh! After all these years, you've ruined The Bangles' videos for me!

PNH: "Immaturity" is a loaded term...
Oh, yes. When I was 16, I thought Niven was the best thing going. I also read and enjoyed Atlas Shrugged. Now I'll occasionally re-read Niven for nostalgia's sake, but I cringe when any adult lauds Ayn Rand.

#142 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 11:36 PM:
...perhaps it is a loaded term, but it's also a specific one -- immature means 'not done yet', 'unfinished', 'at an intermediate stage of a developmental series', and in that sense I think it is perfectly apropos to the discussion.

Drama is drama, and I don't think it's particularly fair to blame a kid if the dramatist can't make a character's agenda accessible to them.

If making the drama more intimate is something the dramatist chooses to do because the integrity of the story calls for it, that's fine. But Eskimoes have dozens of words for "snow." To them English is an immature language because we only need one word for "snow."

When I was in college, we were shown Casablanca in a media class, and we thought the corniness of the movie was hysterical. And yes, since then I've discovered establishing standards demonstrated its quality.

But that doesn't mean that the drama of Rick Blaine can't be made accessible to an 8-year-old -- George Lucas proved it with Han Solo trying to sit out a universal war.

I think most adults are just afraid the kids will find out we don't know what the hell we're doing. Makes it harder for us to live with the pretense.

#143 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 11:50 PM:

...and for those of you who were disillusioned by writers seducing you as young readers with the pretense of what it meant to be an adult, you'd think no one over 30 ever contributed to a stock or a real estate bubble. You'd think Willy Loman died at 14. ("The Globe Theater presents Shakespeare's Loman and Juliet")

#144 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 12:29 AM:

Perhaps a good point but a bad example - snowcat drivers, ski slope groomers and cross-country ski waxers (just the wax vs. klister distinction demands a few words) have a quite extensive vocabulary for describing snow - it may be only mutually intelligible but that is one definition of a slang =technical jargon. obs sf James Nicoll on English vocabulary

- there are whole dictionaries of specialist terms for describing artistic productions - see e.g. the length taken for Seven Types of Ambiguity yet again Steve Allen's/Leno's Man in the Street might not know them well.

For me The Lottery went dead but did not kill Raising Demons; a lot of William Sidney Porter, or some of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents kind of stories fall into the amusing once category Manny so usefully explained. I can see that it might happen with Bester's short stories (wonder if there is some more general connection with substance abuse or the mind of a substance abuser?). If I could read more at a time it might happen with Cabell?

There's always somebody who has things inside their experience to spoil a willing suspension of disbelief. FREX there is an early scene in the movie The Sting set in a gambling room filled with slot machines - many of the slot machines post-date the internal date but I'll wager only a few noticed and fewer objected. I'm told by my barber that Clint Eastwood as Nameless frequently has the equivalent of whipped cream scraped off his face with a popsicle stick before he shoots from under the sheet yet it's never been an obstacle for me.

Some of the brightest minds in the world praise Arslan - I do too - but if you ask M.J. she'll acknowledge (bitterly) about 4 really obvious mistakes including ascribing to white tail the behavior of elk - or for my own retcon, the part of elk in this book is played by white tail, in other works in other places the part of Winchester 73 is played by Winchester 94, the part of an automatic transmission is played by a stick on the soundtrack etc.

I suppose with Chesterton I'll buy a tale in which Queen Victoria is haunted by.... but never on which she is presented with a cigar by.... unless of course Harry Turtledove writes it. Perhaps it's only after a attaining some level of experience or maturity that things fall within experience and so notice and then further experience to change things again likely is rare enough to treasure the works of art we see again for the first time.

#145 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 07:18 AM:

Yes, immaturity IS a loaded term.

Hm. I DO feel embarrassed, in all honesty, when I think about how much some of the stuff I read at 11-13 was utter wish fulfilment. It makes me feel very exposed. To quote a fanfic author on Mary Sues:

Now I'll admit I find a lot of manga [premises] embarrassing, but there's no blinking the fact that they're embarrassing to me precisely because they remind me of stories I've told myself before falling asleep.

(Shameless Setteis and Mary Sues)

Conversely, I still read a great deal of young adult fantasy. I don't look down on anyone devouring Dragonlance, and I do wish in some way that I could return to an age when I read things absolutely uncritically and loved them if they had fun things in them--but I can't turn my reader's eye back in time. I have to read books as the person I am now, and some suffer in the process.

#146 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 09:59 AM:

Yeah, everybody has odd knowledge that'll interfere with their ability to enjoy some work. Every time I see a broad landscape shot in the Peter Jackson LOTR movies, I know in my bones that I'm not seeing Middle Earth, because the botany's wrong. I had a moment like that in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, when a young lady had a Hybrid Tea rose in her headdress.

#147 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 10:07 AM:

(Not to mention, in "Once More with Feeling," observing that a stricken-looking Tara has a bit of dried limonium in her hand.)

#148 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 11:06 AM:

Well of course, Teresa. Limonium is also known as “marsh rosemary”, though not actually related to true rosemary. It's a false rosemary, and rosemary, we know from Hamlet, is for remembrance. What else to use for a false-memory spell?

#149 ::: Zvi ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 12:18 PM:

Side notes:

Mike said:
> Eskimoes have dozens of words for "snow." To them English is > an immature language because we only need one word for
> "snow."

This is a myth about languages that has been successfully debunked by some leading linguistic lights, but that pops up with regularity because it attractively confirms certain ways we want to think.

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000405.html
http://www.socc.ca/inuit.cfm
http://home.bluemarble.net/~langmin/miniatures/eskimo.html
http://www.press.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/hfs.cgi/00/7197.ctl

And many others.

#150 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 12:56 PM:

"... whale songs of the 60's were much more beautiful than the whale songs these days....."

Whales remix each others' songs

I just can't enjoy listening to contemporary whale songs, since they ruined their musicality with the Whale Disco of the 70s. Whale Punk gave me hope for a while, but those whale suicides ended that. Don't even get me started on Whale Rap.

#151 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 02:02 PM:

Anna said:
Anne McCaffrey annoyed me with her propensity for setting up all these wonderful strong female characters and then turning them into domestic gooey-eyed baby-making machines while their menfolk actually get to hold the positions of power ...

That's precisely how it happened for me! I realized that everyone was falling in love and getting married and having kids and I felt like someone had taken my fantasy and replaced it with a romance. (Please don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with romances--they're just not my thing.)

Because of that, I didn't want to read more books by her, knowing that the same theme would most likely be in the new books. I was so disheartened by the whole thing, I sold my books to the used bookstore, since I didn't want to reread a series that I knew was going to end in a way that irritated me. (And I can't read just the first book in a series and stop.)

I'm not sure if that qualifies as ruined or not. I just don't have any interest in reading certain books/authors again, because the happy feeling is gone--the feeling that makes me pick up books again because I remember how they made me feel.

#152 ::: Sajia ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 03:11 PM:

Eskimos may not have a zillion names for snow, but Hindi has at least fifteen synonyms for romantic love. Pyar, prem, ishq, soon the movie titles start blurring into one another...

#153 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 03:29 PM:

I like Anne McCaffrey very much as a person, and sometimes as a writer. I have enjoyed being on panels with her son. But, if I may psychoanalyze, she did have many years of relationships with romantic but ultimately unsatisfactory men. It seems reasonable to me that there was some intentional wish-fulfillment in some of her novels, as she sought to understand male-female dyads, to do better the next time. I posit that part of why we write is to discover something about ourselves, and how we see other people. This would seem to be a strategy that increases Darwinian fitness. It is possible to have babies and still have power in the workplace, but contemporary American society makes that difficult (cf. mommy-track), Europe does slightly better, and much of the rest of the world does far worse. Should spaceships, dragons, and crystals invalidate this?

#154 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 04:33 PM:

I don't psychoanalyze writers on the basis of their fiction. I'll talk about images and tendencies in their work, sure; but observing those things in their writing doesn't mean I know anything about them personally.

#155 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 04:57 PM:

TNH wrote:
I don't psychoanalyze writers on the basis of their fiction. I'll talk about images and tendencies in their work, sure; but observing those things in their writing doesn't mean I know anything about them personally.

Yes; that path is fraught with danger. But I will confess to a certain related habit, of deciding to purchase a writer's books based on an impression of the writer.

I'd never read anything by, or even heard of, Charles Stross, until I heard him speak at Con José, but I then sought out his books; the same is true of Wen Spencer, and others as well.

#156 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 05:16 PM:

Teresa & Lisa:

Of course, you're both right. But my data includes what Anne McCaffrey has openly said about herself, at cons, with no request for confidentiality. I'm giving you, modulo my interpretation, the author's own theory of the author's real and fictional relationships.

The modernist critic would deny that the author's self-analysis is of any value, and the postmodernist critic would deny that the text means anything.

Both with Anne McCaffrey, and previously, with Larry Niven, I've given a very old-fashioned analysis based on public information about the interaction between the authors' life and art. If that is not valid, then why does anyone write biographies of authors?

Doesn't it matter that Norman Mailer has been married several times, once to 3 women simultaneously (as it became clear in trial), and stabbed one wife? Doesn't it matter that Heinlein had 3 marriages, and each time de facto denied the existence of all previous marriages? Doesn't it matter that Asimov and Clarke had amicable divorces that gave the ex-wives all proceeds from books published to the date of divorce? Doesn't it matter that Harlan Ellison has been married 5 times, and this 5th time is wonderful? Doesn't it matter that Robert Silverberg has had several amicable divorces, and that I saw him, the very picture of cool, at a Locus party with his current wife and 2 ex-wives all in the same room at once? I think it bears on how well authors understand marriages. That, in turn, would be expected to have some impact on fictional depictions.

#157 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 07:28 PM:

It's interesting how many shades of feeling this subject covers, including over-familiarity, burn-out (by reader or writer), retrospective contempt, various kinds of enlightenment ("as a kid I loved such crap", "this author lost it in '68", "man, this is still great!"), the nagging of details, etc.

I'm long past blind youthful enthusiasms (26 going on 27 when the first SW came out, and I spent most of the movie wishing it had been Dune), and years of book reviewing have spoiled plenty of authors for me to one degree or another, but reading is still a mishmash of personal taste, general standards, and experience or the lack of it. I guess what surprises me most is the times when familiarity doesn't breed contempt for the people I've reviewed in double digits by now (not counting Pratchett, whom nothing can ever stale).

#158 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 07:36 PM:

Avram, I just now leaned out our kitchen window, looking over the back yard where Teresa is grilling chunks of protein with the help of Jim Macdonald, and summarized your explanation regarding limonium for her benefit.

Her response: "Avram Grumer is frighteningly smart."

Mitch, for what it's worth, I barely remember the Bangles' videos, but I've been listening to their music a lot lately, for the first time since the mid-1980s, and man does it hold up. "Dover Beach" is a harrowing song.

#159 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 08:39 PM:
I just can't enjoy listening to contemporary whale songs, since they ruined their musicality with the Whale Disco of the 70s. Whale Punk gave me hope for a while, but those whale suicides ended that. Don't even get me started on Whale Rap.

But you still have messages to worship Ahab to look forward to when you play the whale music backwards.

#160 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 08:56 PM:

Mike:

And if I'd paid attention, I'd have invested in Starbuck's...

#161 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 09:45 PM:

Avram, what Patrick said.

#162 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 10:33 PM:

It's 'cause I'm a cyborg.

Seriously. I looked up "limoneum" on Wikipedia, saw the bit about rosemary, thought "Doesn't that show up in Ophelia's crazed speech about flowers in Hamlet?" googled that up, and Bob's my uncle.

I've got a computer-assisted sense of humor.

#163 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 11:54 PM:

I've lost the willing suspension of disbelief when I read a legal brief. I just can't let myself believe that there will be justice. I've been fooled too many times before. However, in case you missed it earlier this month:

5 May 2005

Vonnegut makes court appearance (in a sense)

Kurt Vonnegut's 1961 short story "Harrison Bergeron" was cited in a brief filed with the Kansas Supreme Court in a lawsuit over funding of public schools. The story, collected in Welcome to the Monkey House [Delta, 8 Sep 1998, ISBN: 0385333501], is set in a dystopian future wherein the 211th, 212th and 213th Amendments to the US Constitution require hampering anyone's above-average abilities, forcing everyone to be equal in ability, as well as under the law.

Vonnegut: Lawyers could use literary lesson. Famous author drawn into debate over school finance
By Scott Rothschild

Attorneys argued the unconstitutionality of any cap on local taxes for education. They used the short story to depict the dangers of forced equality. Vonnegut, however, stated that they missed the point, as his story is about trying to level out intelligence and talent, not money.

Just right for the merged Making Light -- science fiction AND politics!

#164 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2005, 12:00 AM:

I dunno. "Riddley Walker" is an icon. Everybody says this is how sf ought to be: challenging, intellectual, uncompromising. And dismal, mustn't forget dismal. I fell out of it when the pound or so of loose, unconfined, uncorned wet gunpowder explodes with sufficient force to dismember one person, carry his head (!) some distance and put it on a post, and demolish a hut entirely. At that point I yelled, "Oh, c'mon!", and threw the book.

I find this inexplicable, on an intellectual level. I read Pratchett, and ignore that the world is a flat disc that sits on the shoulders of elephants. I read others and accept FTL or time travel. How come I get all upset at a physical impossibility in "Riddley Walker"?

#165 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2005, 12:22 AM:

I got C. S. Lewis back.

I was introduced to Narnia books soon after they were first published, I think, and I was blown away by the color, the crispness of the air, the scent and chill of the wind, the quality of the light, the wonder of the world.

So I was no more than eleven -- I know this because I read them before we moved -- and I was reading along in all this wild, rich beauty, and then . . . The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in which it was clear -- even though none of what Eustace's family did was anything like what my family did -- somehow it was clear that Eustace was supposed to be me and his family was supposed to be mine and he clearly held me and mine in such contempt he was pleased to lie about us and put us through dreadful humiliation.

I don't know how come, as a ten-year-old or maybe a nine-year-old I figured this out. There was not a single thing that Eustace's family did that was like what our family did except to be unconventional and to have strong ideas about things.

Anyway, I got over it, even as I would feel kind of jeered at and roughed up every few pages, because of the colors and the sweet water and the beautiful world beneath the waves and because of Reepicheep.

The Last Battle hunted me down and held my head under. I hated it, almost every word of it. But I was still in mad forgiving love with Lewis and my parents got me the trilogy -- Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength (for Christmas, which rony I did not appreciate till this minute). Again, I adored what I was reading -- especially Perelandra with the otter-like creatures whose excretions were sweet -- until I got to The Hideous Strength.

I lost C.S. Lewis for fifteen years or so. That last book was so nasty and mean-spirited -- and again, picked on someone I thought was supposed to be like me to vilify and caricature and dispose of (though I found out later what "Objectivist" means and that it had nothing to do with me)-- I just got angry every time I got near his work. Because I felt betrayed and attacked.

Later, when I had children, I got to read them the Narnia books, and I got to revel in the senses and the wonder, and because I knew what was coming, I could soften the blow of the mean stuff (and honestly, my own children, growing up in a paradisical bubble of subculture tolerance, were never as vulnerable as I was) and we could keep going.

I'm really glad to have the Wood Between the Worlds and the forests and the prismatic wind back.

#166 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2005, 12:40 AM:

Lucy Kemnitzer:

That was a lovely essay! The C. S. Lewis Science Fiction trilogy -- Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength -- is cunningly designed to intersect Theological Fantasy with Science Fiction tropes, to unexpected effects. The glorious sunlight in space undercuts the pulp SF notion of space as dark. The floating vegetation islands on Venus subvert the oceanic Venus of pulp SF. The macrobes undercut the "Donovan's Brain" paradigm. And so forth.

But "nasty and mean-spirited" though volume 3 might be, it hadn't "picked on someone I thought was supposed to be like me," but rather, I suspect, was a specific attack on H. G. Wells, and the Socialist didactic Science Fiction cum Rationalist Materialist paradigm he preached.

The reconfiguring of Britain (vol. 3) was oddly mirrored by the reconfiguring of Ireland in Fred Hoyle's "Ossian's Ride," which in turn prefigured the actual reconfiguring of Ireland under its dot com boom. BTW, the new bio of Hoyle looks interesting. Anyone here read it?

The reality of astrology in the C. S. Lewis trilogy is weirdly mirrored in Pier's Anthony's Macroscope.

The way that all these works of literature connect to each other makes it hard to throw one book aside, as the elastic links to the other tend to keep it suspended in mid-room, as if in a spiderweb of literary criticism. That is, if the novel itself is less fun on rereading, it may produce fascinating patterns in the funhouse mirror of intra- and inter-genre reference.

#167 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2005, 05:53 AM:

I'd never read anything by, or even heard of, Charles Stross, until I heard him speak at Con José, but I then sought out his books; the same is true of Wen Spencer, and others as well.

You aren't reading over my shoulder are you? The last two books I finished reading were Tinker and Singularity Sky. Are you about to profess intrigue in the works of Stephen Baxter?

#168 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2005, 06:01 AM:

Orson Scott Card's political commentary does not fill me with desire to reread any of his fiction.

#169 ::: Tiger Spot ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2005, 07:40 AM:

Dave Luckett:

I find this inexplicable, on an intellectual level. I read Pratchett, and ignore that the world is a flat disc that sits on the shoulders of elephants. I read others and accept FTL or time travel. How come I get all upset at a physical impossibility in "Riddley Walker"?

The fundamental basis of Pratchett's Discworld is that it sits on the elephants on Great A'Tuin and has working magic. Within that framework, it's (mostly) self-consistent. The other story, which I haven't read, is probably supposed to be using real-world physics. When something like gunpowder doesn't behave the way it would in the real world, it doesn't fit the story.

I don't at all mind when a story varies from reality, but I mind when it's internally inconsistent. Also, if something is going to vary from reality I want that established right up front so I'm not wandering about assuming things work like they do in the real world and being blindsided at the end of the book by the Magic Trinket of Plot Device.

#170 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2005, 11:38 AM:

Ahh, Jonathan, you've explained everything to me. In retrospect, I had decided that the Narnia attack was on the Kellogg types and the attack in That Hideous Strength was on Randites, and not really on my type of folks except in the general way that they were insisting that there was only one right to be. But if the model in all cases was H.G. Wells -- then there would be little clues I wouldn't recall but which I would react to, as a child, since I read and read and read H.G.Wells and E.Nesbit all the time.

#171 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2005, 01:05 PM:

My own Heinlein jump-the-shark book was "I Will Fear No Evil." Although my favorite Heinlein is actually his next book after that: "Time Enough For Love."

Not all the books after "Time Enough" were all bad: "Friday" and "Job" were both pretty good. However, Heinlein's post-"Time Enough" books were increasingly mired down in long sermons by his Gary Stu character, Lazarus Long, and long diatribes against monogamy. And the famous bit in "Number of the Beast" wherein we learn that girls with big hooters just love to stare at them in the mirror all day, and that nipples go "spung."

Although to be fair to RAH, I don't think he actually believed that about women. I think, rather, he was clumsily attempting to write good porn, and it is a characteristic of much porn prose that the women in those stories behave like their male readers would like to believe they would behave if they were hot women themselves.

I heard a rumor — and this is just a rumor — that Heinlein was active in the swinging scene in Orange County a few decades ago. Now, I don't know whether this is true — but it explains a quality of his fiction. Heinlein's prose about sex resembles talking to a swinger about swinging, or a BDSM advocate about BDSM — it's boring. They just go on and on about how liberating it is, and how wonderful it is, and how other people are just all repressed and don't understand them, and you just want to feign an epileptic seizure to get away.

Heinlein's prose about sex is like that.

I mean, I just love talking to my single men friends about their dating and singles adventures — but they make it sound like adventures. Sex is boring when it isn't dirty.

What was I talking about again? Oh, yeah, Heinlein.

Even the Bad Heinlein was a great prose stylist, great at dialogue and worldbuilding. "I Will Fear No Evil" is arguably his worst book by far — worse even than "The Sixth Column" — "Fear No Evil" is just an incoherent mess — and yet that book has a compelling and haunting view of near-future America in which the middle class has been destroyed, law and order has broken down, the rich have private police forces and the poor avoid Abandoned Areas where there is no law at all.

Mr. Bill, I'm intrigued by your statement that "Friday" is a book which espouses a selfish philosophy. I don't see it.

I agree with you that the book is not strong on social conscience. Heinlein did write about heroes with social consciences: "Starship Troopers," "The Long Watch," and "Citizen of the Galaxy" were all about men who were willing to live their lives for their duty to nation, and to die for that duty if necessary.

But "Friday" is about a different, equally valid social philosophy: sometimes, when your society is in collapse around you, all you can do is survive, and help your friends survive, and escape to somewhere where you can live a better life for yourself.

Heinlein is one of a generation of sf writers whose lives and political philosophies were molded by World War II. "Starship Troopers," etc., are stories about Allied soldiers during the war. "Friday" is a story about the Jews of pre-Nazi Germany, who were living normal, middle-class-or-better lives one day, and the next day were scrambling to stay out of concentration camps.

JVP, I'm intrigued by your statement that Heinlein was married three times. I thought there were only two: Virginia, to whom he was married ~40 years, and Leslyn, to whom he was married only a few years, as a young man.

I also would not say that he was in de facto denial about his earlier marriage(s). From what I've read about him, he wouldn't talk about them, but not discussing something is a long way from being in denial about it.

#172 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2005, 01:33 PM:

Mr. Heinlein and Ginny did not encourage their friends to talk about their private lives.

The Heinlein Journal did a piece about Leslyn with Ginny's cooperation. Some there is a connection to Farnham's Freehold and there may be.

For obvious reasons I remember the last name of the best man at the first wedding - Mr. Heinlein's room mate retired Rear Admiral RN Clark - but there is little said about that marriage.

#173 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2005, 01:35 PM:

Should read some say there is a connection

#174 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2005, 05:23 PM:

you just want to feign an epileptic seizure to get away

xppthhthh fuck fucking fuckkkk

#175 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2005, 06:20 PM:

Incoherent fury aside, no, you don't want to pretend to be having an epileptic attack. Not near me.

#176 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2005, 08:01 PM:

Mitch: AIUI, he was married three times; the general knowledge of the first marriage is basically "Uh, well, we know she was a woman". Circa 1930 in Kansas City, lasted about a year, divorce. Her name was discovered about a few years ago, apparently; someone's sitting on it for a biography they're working on.

iTEdd.2718$KJ6.765@newsread1.news.pas.earthlink.net has a brief summary.

#177 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 12:12 AM:

I want to read a good, thorough Heinlein biography for light on his writing--not about his sex life, but about his family.

Families of protagonists in Heinlein novels are often not entirely healthy places (although families of secondary characters often look like Norman Rockwell paintings), and children aren't seen much between babyhood and pubescence.

Okay, yes, I am pruriently curious about his sex life. It's just not as interesting literarily as his early youth and his family.

Oh, I re-read I Will Fear No Evil recently, and it's currently running second to Farnham's Freehold as the most underrated Heinlein novel in my mind--there's another reading in my near future, I think.

#178 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 01:13 AM:

I agree with you that "Farnham's Freehold" is underrated -- but what did you like about "I Will Fear No Evil"?

#179 ::: Anna in Cairo ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 08:53 AM:

I am sorry not to have gotten to this conversation earlier - I have just had the "throw the book across the room" experience with the latest Michael Crichton book Fear something, about how global warming is all a crock according to him. In this book there are a bunch of femme fatale characters that seem like they all came out of video games sneaking, murdering, seducing, emoting, and manipulating around, who are introduced in the first few chapters in a bewilderingly confusing series so that you can't tell one of them from the other.

This book made me want to throw it across the room for three reasons - not just one! One, that the wise scientist Kennan or Kenner or whatever, was so obviously a Gary Stu; two,that all the women were so damned cookie-cutter and it seemed as though Crichton had never met a normal woman but had gotten his knowledge of them solely by living in Plato's cave and watching James Bond films; and three, that he had such an obvious political agenda that he kept hitting the reader over the head with (complete with confusing charts and footnotes with cherry-picked data to convince us all there is no global warming and environmentalists are the new thing to have a global war against). I feel like I will never pick up a Crichton book again. And I enjoyed a couple of his older ones.

#180 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 11:31 AM:

There's a flip side to throwing one's hands up in frustration and abandoning an author; it's watching an author grow in his craft.

Thanks to this blog, I've re-discovered SF and Fantasy, and one of the authors I've enjoyed most has been China Mieville. He's got a relatively short list of published novels and I started in the middle with Perdido Street Station. I the last two weeks, I read Iron Council and King Rat, both of which were entertaining. It was clear, however, that Mr. Mieville's writing skills had grown between the two. In King Rat a character is introduced, used in the plot and disposed of in the space of a couple of pages, whereas in Iron Council characters gradually come into their own, with some losses along the way, until the book comes to it's climax.

I hope he never jumps the shark. And if he does, that it's many, many novels from now.

#181 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 01:42 PM:

First, I Will Fear No Evil is Heinlein's most literarily ambitious undertaking, and I'm a sucker for writers who swing for the fence. (Ambition was a quality of Heinlein's at the time, not of the book itself, but I do admire it and wanted to note it.)

So, what did I like about the book itself? Aside, that is, from its "compelling and haunting view of near-future America in which the middle class has been destroyed, law and order has broken down, the rich have private police forces and the poor avoid Abandoned Areas where there is no law at all"? (Actually, I think the poor tend to live in the Abandoned Areas. Strange--you'd think all the well-to-do libertarians would be there, but they stay, mostly, in their Snug Harbors.)

As a teenager, I liked the vision and the outrageousness of it all, and as an adult, I still do. It's a pretty wild idea, even for Heinlein, to do a brain-transplant novel and end up with Fanny Hill Does Dallas.

The settings are beautifully drawn. There's a stink of corruption and decadence in this society that I don't get from those societies we visit in Friday (about as good as the later books get). Perhaps Heinlein was reacting against the silliness of the lunar society he'd previously created when he showed the likelier results of lawlessness in 2012.

The business people honestly don't give a shit about anything but money, so far as business goes. (Yes, I find Delos D. Harriman a convincing character. There's one of him, and Johann Schmidt isn't it.)

The scenes of Johann learning the body seem realistic to me. They're convincing--most of the early part of the book is. The surgeon is refreshingly inhumane. Johann's memories are compelling.

This is the only book in which Heinlein managed to make his sexually free characters more than nominally accepting of male homosexuality. Yeah, yeah, there's a little of that in Time Enough For Love--too damned little, and as it's unconvincing, too damned much, too. I'd have to think about it for a while, but I think this is a unique moment in Heinlein. (Someone could probably connect this back to Heinlein's alleged participation in swinging--not big on male-male sex.)

Finallly, back to the literary ambitions of the book. When Heinlein decided to experiment with multiple narrators (or the appearance thereof--more on that in a moment), he also patched a major problem with his didactic prose--it stopped being a lecture and became a dialog. Granted, it was a dialog between people who found they agreed about everything, but in different voices. (If Ayn Rand could've learned this trick, she'd've upped her word count twenty percent per book, easy.)

Giving us the split point of view (whether handled well or not) also makes the book more pleasing to read, page by page.

Finally, is Johann really hearing Eunice? Is it his imagination? Who knows? I'm inclined to say he is, but there isn't any real good evidence in the book either way. This is one of the king hell unreliable narrators, and I love unreliable narrators.

(Wouldn't you love to read Dak Broadbent's candid memoir of how Joseph Bonforte went nuts and decided he was a vaudeville actor, and of the drastic steps Bonforte's staff took to bring him back to reality?)

I think the book is underrated for a variety of reasons, some related to its virtues, and others related to its vices.

It's the first of Heinlein's books where he's clearly not in full control of his powers, and people have had longer to dislike it than any of the later ones. (Duh.) That shouldn't be underestimated--compound interest is a bitch.

It also established, for better or for worse, that people would flock to buy books in which Heinlein, that seminal sixties hippie thinker (and how he would have hated that designation! But someone had to do the hippies' thinking) ranted on about whatever, especially sex. (How young is the youngest prostitute in the club where Rockford gets killed? Is she twelve or fourteen? I forget--but hey! It was still the sixties in 1970.) I suspect some people blame later Heinlein on his getting away with this one.

It's not one of Heinlein's best books, but it's not the worst of them, either. Around the top of the bottom third, I'd say.

#182 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 03:12 PM:

I also have a certain fondness for I Will Fear No Evil (btw, why is it called that?) Like adamsj, I think that Heinlein was pushing his own boundaries in this book - in terms of theme, narration, etc. - which seems to be very unusual for him.

But these are my favorite Heinlein books (including some that everyone else thinks are really bad):

Door Into Summer
Glory Road
I Will Fear No Evil
Number of The Beast (although I realized on my last re-reading that you cannot tell the narrators apart)
Cat Who Walks Through Walls

Lazarus Long never really did anything for me. As for The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which many people cite as one of his best, yeah, it had quite a bit of cool stuff, but the whole "triumph of liberty" thing leaves me a little cold. I've heard it too often from him.

Questions: Was Heinlein really writing Gary Stus? When an author makes their political beliefs the center of their writing, that's not Gary-Stu-ism, is it (no matter how annoying)? And what about Friday? That's no Gary Stu (no matter how equally annoying).

#183 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 03:41 PM:

"As for The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, which many people cite as one of his best, yeah, it had quite a bit of cool stuff, but the whole 'triumph of liberty' thing leaves me a little cold. I've heard it too often from him."

This is one of those remarks that leaves me wondering if we read the same book. What "triumph of liberty?" The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is a tragedy. The revolution fails. (Granted, libertarians embrace the book; for the life of me, I don't see why.)

I may have to read I Will Fear No Evil; it's been literally decades, and I'm certainly willing to entertain the idea that there's stuff there worth a second look. Meanwhile, however, the male homosexuality in it isn't a "unique moment in Heinlein," as adamsj claims, nor am I thinking of Time Enough for Love as the second example. In the second half of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, the male protagonist has a straightforwardly homosexual encounter and likes it. The fact that nobody appears to remember this is probably due to the fact that 82.6% of the book's readers gave up three chapters in advance of the scene in question.

#184 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 03:46 PM:

Laura - I am pretty sure it is a reference to the Bible verse, "Yea, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me..." (Psalms, 23:4)

Though I'm pretty sure an elderly kazillionaire and a gorgeous young secretary are not the "I" and "thou" the Psalm refers to.

#185 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 04:00 PM:

Patrick: the revolution failed? Go figure. It has been a long time since I read the book. But it did stop being a penal colony, right? I thought that was the whole point.

On rereading IWFNE: Even though I like it, I wouldn't say you have to reread it if you've got anything better to do. It is definitely a strange book.

On male homosexuality in IWFNE: What I remember is Heinlein's casual, non-negative description of two minor characters who are lovers. That is kind of different from his usual approach, which is never negative but does seem to get rather defensive sometimes ("there's nothing wrong with it but it's not what I'm into" kind of thing).

My recollection of the incident in Cat > Walls is that the protagonist wakes up next to his extremely handsome male doctor. Their encounter is not described in any kind of detail.

Jill: I did kind of remember that it was from the Bible. My confusion is similar to yours though.

#186 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 04:01 PM:

It's interesting to me that the closest Mistress gets to a libertarian utopia is when the place is still run as a prison. (I don't know why I never noticed that before.)

#187 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 04:46 PM:

Laura, the revolution does fail -- the colony becomes autonomous -- but Prof de la Paz's dream of an anarcho-capitalist society fails to some to fruition. As David points out, the features of Loonie society that libertarian readers love so much are lost as the Loonies start ruling themselves. The very first sentence of the book, in which Mannie mentions the legislature debating about licenses for food cart vendors, tells you this, though you get further clues later on.

A further irony, if I remember the book correctly: The entire vital reason for the revolution -- the secret reason that Mycroft gives to the cabal -- is to establish a trade barrier because Luna will strip itself of resources trading with Earth.

#188 ::: Ashni ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 05:34 PM:

It just occurred to me that Mycroft Holmes' story arc in TMIAHM is essentially the same as Valentine Michael Smith's in SIASL. Mike has superhuman powers, and uses them to help the humans create the society they want and need. Meanwhile, he learns how to be human (though this involves less sex for the computerized version). Eventually, however, he is martyred so that his allies can reach their goals--except that he may still be alive, in some sense, somewhere.

Am I slow? Did everyone else already know this?

For the record, I still like most of Heinlein's later stuff, even the silly bits. Although parts of Number of the Beast are nigh-unreadable, I can still remember sitting around with three friends, trying to figure out where the Gay Deceiver would be steered if *we* were flying it.

#189 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 07:05 PM:

The story arc of "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is similar to "Huckleberry Finn."

Huck achieves his goals: he's out from the domination of his evil father, and Jim is freed. But Huck has to pay a price: he has to get "sivilized," which he hates.

But fortunately, Huck has a plan to escape that too — he's going to "light out for the territories." And so is Manny; by the end of the novel, he's strongly considering migrating to the Asteroid Belt, which he believes to be as libertarian as the Moon was when he was a young man.

Note that the moon of "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress" became the Moon of "The Rolling Stones" ; Hazel Meade Stone is a little girl in "Moon," and an old woman in "Stones." The Moon of "Stones" is not a bad place to live — it's just kind of boring for someone seeking to have adventures.

Elswhere on this blog, we've been discussing how so many Golden Age writers wrote about inevitable historical cycles of expansion, stagnation, decadence, and decline and fall into barbarism. Heinlein was no different — one of his themes is how frontier societies are libertarian utopias, which gradually become more and more congested and regulated. Lazarus Long, who's visited and lived in many societies and many planets, says that the time to pack up and migrate is when the culture requires universal ID cards.

Which is, in America, coming this year, unless it's stopped.

#190 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 07:08 PM:

BTW, I've never heard "Moon" described as a tragedy before, and I'll buy that.

Part of the tragedy is that the revolution claims the lives of two of the people Manny loves most: Mike and the Prof.

Ashnii - Yes, the story arcs of "Moon" and "Stranger" are similar in the way you describe. However, in "Moon," dead is dead, but in "Stranger," death is a promotion. You get a corner office with a view, and a parking space with your name on it close to the building.

#191 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 07:09 PM:

My shorthand definition of a tragedy is: the good guys win, but you feel sad at the end of the book anyway.

#192 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 07:18 PM:

> frontier societies are libertarian utopias,
> which gradually become more and more
> congested and regulated.

That is one viewpoint.
There is another, that was summed up well
by supreme court judge (I think) who said
soemthing to the effect of
"I don't mind paying taxes, I feel like
I'm helping pay for civilization"

The truth of course lies somewhere between
human viewpoints.

#193 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 07:26 PM:

The classic Aristotelian definition of a tragedy: a serious and dignified drama that describes a conflict between the hero (protagonist) and a superior force (destiny, chance, society, god) and reaches a sorrowful conclusion that arouses pity or fear in the audience.

#194 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 07:46 PM:

Greg London - I think Heinlein would agree with the Supreme Court judge.

Heinlein certainly viewed frontier societies as preferable to police states, and he included both in his fiction.

But he thought the best culture was — as you say — somewhere in between.

Specifically, Kansas City, Mo., late 1916 to early 1917, just prior to the U.S. entry into World War I. Heinlein — or rather, Lazarus Long — describes the city as just a couple of generations removed from the frontier then, and run by a benevolent dictator.

Another benefit to KC then and there, for LL at least: MILFs.

#195 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 07:50 PM:

There is a reading of "Moon's" ending in which Mike (no relation) doesn't "die," but, having ensured his survival, simply quits talking to the lower orders of intelligence. This well may not be the impression the author wanted to leave, but I don't think it's dismissible, either.

I wrote long ago in a book far far away that students coming to Oedipus Rex in high school had trouble comprehending the story; the guy wasn't responsible for his birth and his dad drew first, so why did all the bad things happen? I saw this in action, but I'm not sure if it still applies -- perhaps the contemporary-now kids just put it down to "life sucks, and then your eyeballs fall out." There might even be a bleeding-edge version in which Creon announces that the pronouncements of the gods are "quaint" and has Teiresias outsourced to Assyria, but I don't think I want to go look.

#196 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 07:52 PM:

Mitch Wagner:

May I quote your last two postings in my paper for delivery later this month at the Science Fiction Research Association annual conference, in Las Vegas? The Program Chair put me in his session, which is on the relationship between Westerns and Science Fiction, and my draft paper already quotes Heinlein. Your nice summaries tie up some of my loose ends. Well put!

#197 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 08:11 PM:

Lenny - That Humanities Handbook site is great, thanks for linking it.

I've always thought of Tragedy as tales where the characters are changed and learn from the things that befall them, if they should happen to survive. I suppose most drama and serious literature lands in this bucket.

Comedy (at least to me) consists of tales where the characters are immutable and circumstances flow around them. However their world may change, they do not. While everyone may wind up living happily ever after, you just know that another monorail salesman/crate of radioactive seeds/master-servant pair switching identities is gonna come and mess with their village.

#198 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 08:27 PM:

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is the story of leaving libertarian Eden.

#199 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 08:33 PM:

someday, though not today, we will outgrow the mythology of any dictator being "benevolant".

My version of a benevolant dictator story would have him set up at least two, possibly three, branches of government, with separations of powers, a solid constitution, and then see him resign by the end of chapter 1.

The rest of the book would look something like a mix of Iraq in 2005 and America in 1776.

Hey, I didn't say it would be a happy book.

;)

#200 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 08:40 PM:

Patrick, I'd forgotten that incident in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (even though I'm a 17.4-percenter).

But isn't the guy in question Galahad? (I'm currently separated from my books, or I'd look it up myself.) I believe it is, and I didn't like his presentation in Time Enough For Love, either. He comes off as very femme (statements of female characters to the contrary, if I remember correctly--more defensiveness?), which (and I could be wrong here) from Heinlein and in this context I don't take as an entirely positive presentation. More a token, and a bit of a stereotype.

#201 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 08:59 PM:

Larry Brennan:

Classical Comedy usually ends with a wedding (or weddings). The woman thinks that she can change the man, and vice versa. Mutable or immutable? "Happily ever after" is less fun for the audience.

What was that Borges story about the Islamic gentleman translating Aristotle's Poetics into Arabic? He gets it completely done, except for two tricky words. Comedy and Tragedy.

#202 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 09:29 PM:

Sure, Jonathan. Quote away.

John M. Ford - I encountered "Oedipus Rex" in high school myself. I wouldn't say I failed to comprehend it, but I didn't get it on an emotional level.

And I still don't.

#203 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 09:49 PM:

My defense of "Farnham's Freehold," to pay back adamsj for his defense of "I Will Fear No Evil." This isn't a positive defense; rather, I'm out to rebut criticisms of the novel.

1) The first, and most obvious criticism of the novel, is racism. Blacks are shown as enslaving whites, and stealing white women. But, in fact, Heinlein takes pains to show that the black aristocrats of his far-future world behave no worse than plantation-owners in the antebellum south. Hugh Farnam's owner respects Hugh, and rewards Hugh for his work.

I wouldn't blame a contemporary black reader for finding the book offensive. It was written almost 40 years ago, times change.

B) Most Heinlein protagonists are role models for the reader. In the case of Heinlein's young adult novels, they were explicitly intended that way. Hugh Farnham is not a role model, except for in his loyalty, intelligence and drive for freedom. He's a prick who was a lousy father, a lousy husband, and stole his son's girlfriend. In 20th Century society, he was a mediocrity with apparently no friends. I think Heinlein was aware of this, and consciously wrote a novel with a protagonist who is admirable but unsympathetic.

"Farnham's Freehold" is a dark novel, intentionally so.

#204 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 12:02 PM:

adamsj - yes, the gay guy in Cat Who Walks Through Walls is Galahad.

Does everybody know that the protagonist of Cat Who Walks Through Walls was black? (specifically, his mother was black and his fatrher was white.)

#205 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 12:21 PM:

Does everybody know that the protagonist of Cat Who Walks Through Walls was black? (specifically, his mother was black and his fatrher was white.)

"Black" by what definition, then? Heinlein's?

#206 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 12:26 PM:

Heinlein never spells out that the character is "black." That was my word (and I did wonder if it was accurate). But there are a couple references to his skin color being non-white. And the explanation of who his parents are is . . . a bit of a spoiler, really.

#207 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 12:29 PM:

See, there's the thing--Galahad isn't gay, he's polymorphously perverse, or maybe just bisexual, but he's not gay.

The first time we ever see him on stage out of his contamination suit, he's just propositioned someone without either of them knowing the other's gender--not exactly straight--but pleased to find he's gotten a woman--so not gay.

But he still is written as a gay character, or at least with (and again, I don't have the books with me at the moment, so I can't cite) a cornucopia of ways (cliches or stereotypes, depending on how much they bug you) in which he's designated as being gay.

I believe we can go to either Stranger in a Strange Land or I Will Fear No Evil for suggestions that there isn't all that much difference between being an asexual male and a homosexual male--hell, I think there's some of that in The Puppet Masters--which, even as a heterosexual male, kind of pisses me off. (What, I like girls because I'm horny? I think there's more to it than that.) For instance, consider what gets said about Hubert in I Will Fear No Evil.

("Wet firecracker" is an interesting phrase. Heinlein uses it to describe guys uninterested in sex. He also uses it on at least two occasions--"...All You Zombies" and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress--to describe a World War III that fell a bit short.)

And Laura, I'd love to find out whether Heinlein started off with a black protagonist (I figure this is probably the case), or whether he retconned it once he realized he had a shot at a cheap moment of race drama two-thirds of the way into the book.

That's a spot that really gets my dander up in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (which I did like, even if it did fall apart in the middle and never did get itself back together), 'cause the scene seems written to climax with a cheap joke.

#208 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 12:35 PM:

The character (and why can't I think of his name? I think I can name every Heinlein protagonist but this one) specifically differentiates himself from another character who is black on grounds something like:

I'm glad you and I are not the same sort of black people.

He says it a bit better than that--not quite up to Occitan standards, but a good try--but the sentiment is still cheap.

#209 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 12:36 PM:

We're all practicing for the Convention to honor the 100th anniversary of Heinlein's birth, right?

Perhaps his notions of homosexuality were shaped by his long-lived father (himself a model for long-lived father figures?), the culture of Kansas City, and the U.S. Navy?

#210 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 12:44 PM:

JVP asks: "We're all practicing for the Convention to honor the 100th anniversary of Heinlein's birth, right?"

Only for my whole adult life, and most of my teens.

#211 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 12:53 PM:

adamsj, that Galahad is in Time Enough for Love; is he in TCWWTW too? I wouldn't know, since I never read it.

I read The Puppet Masters as thinly-veiled red-baiting...and even that veil is stripped away by the end, when they say that the PMs took hold without a fight in the Soviet Union, where everyone's used to mind control. And it was not lost on me as a gay teenager that one test they use early on is to parade around a buxom female; any male who doesn't react to her is shot as a controlee.

Hey, wait a minute, I thought. But of course this is the McCarthy/Cohn conflation: homosexuals are the same as communists anyway, so who cares if they get shot?

And the 'wet firecracker' line appears in the stage directions of Inherit the Wind.

#212 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 01:06 PM:

Xopher, I'm almost certain that it's Galahad who shows up in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, but I can't look it up and wouldn't swear to it--my command of the last two books is relatively very weak.

#213 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 01:08 PM:

Pre-caveat: the note below is based on an almost 20-year-old memory of the idea discussed. Make of that what you will.

One literary academic (IIRC it was Northrop Frye, but I am not completely sure) posited that both comedy and tragedy involve a community's quest to become a "golden society" and one of the members of the community is, by nature or intent, blocking that goal. In comedy, the character changes in order to achieve the golden society. In tragedy, the character dies or is expelled.

#214 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 01:18 PM:

adamsj said: The character (and why can't I think of his name? I think I can name every Heinlein protagonist but this one) specifically differentiates himself from another character who is black on grounds something like: "I'm glad you and I are not the same sort of black people."

I can't think of his name either - believe he uses at least two pseudonyms, could be why.

The line that I remember is: "It's a good thing you and I have the same skin color, because otherwise I'd be called a racist for the way I despise you."

#215 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 01:23 PM:

Double post - adamsj also said And Laura, I'd love to find out whether Heinlein started off with a black protagonist (I figure this is probably the case), or whether he retconned it once he realized he had a shot at a cheap moment of race drama two-thirds of the way into the book.

Well, he did something similar in I Will Fear No Evil - a casual reference to the non-white skin color of a minor female character. Not that that proves anything one way or the other, but my guess is that it was not a retcon.

#216 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 01:25 PM:

Laura Roberts, a Jewish comedian once said of another Jewish celeb, "We do have something in common. He's ashamed he's a Jew, and so am I."

#217 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 01:28 PM:

That both is and sounds like the line, Laura--you've got a good memory and a good ear. I thought I remembered "shame" in there, but "despise" makes a good fightin' word, too. And after thinking for a bit, I think, maybe, he's--Colin Campbell?

#218 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 01:57 PM:

I think Colin Campbell was one of his names, yes.

#219 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 03:02 PM:

Xopher, I think you're misremembering the way homosexuality was handled in "The Puppet Masters."

There definitely was one scene where the female secret agent says she's sure that a particular person has been taken over by aliens because he doesn't get hot for her. But that's as far as it goes.

You might argue that's far enough, though.

Heinlein gave lip service (so to speak) to supporting homosexuality, but he rarely portrayed it, and when he did it was even more coyly and clumsily than he portrayed heterosexual sex. And that was pretty coy and clumsy to begin with.

But even there there were some ways that he was ahead of most of the people writing in the mainstream.

I remember reading a Dan Savage sex-advice column a few months back where a guy wrote in who said he's married, attracted to women, loves his wife, is not interested in leaving her, has sex with her regularly — but also occasionally had sex with other men. He wanted to know if he should consider himself gay, straight or bi.

Savage responded: Straight, definitely. Sexual identity (he said) is as much a matter of self-image as it is of behavior. The way the guy writing in describe himself, he was definitely straight.

Now, I realize the gay community has always known about this, but me, I'm just a heterosexual lad from a sheltered upbringing in the suburbs; the Dan Savage column was, to me, an interesting insight.

But Heinlein wrote about it 30 years earlier, in "I Will Fear No Evil." I remember two minor characters were (IIRC) a smalltown judge and prominent attorney, two lifelong friends who occasionally went off to the woods together on fishing trips, to an isolated cabin, and — wouldn't you know it — they were such lousy fishermen that they never caught any fish. Their wives knew what was really going on, and didn't particularly mind.

The last part is where Heinlein stretches credulity for me — how many wives in real life really wouldn't mind. I think the overwhelming majority of wives might decide to live with the whole thing, but they'd hate it. In general, I think Heinlein makes too little of the modern American drive toward monogamy — just because modern Americans frequently violate monogamy doesn't mean we're not deep-down monogamous, the overwhelming majority of Americans view deviations from monogamy as failures, in ourselves and in others. We just differ on how we handle it. Me, I figure what other people do is ultimately not my business.

#220 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 03:32 PM:

IIRC - don't have the books handy - in the first instance Elihu (Sam) Aluquere (Mary?) and the old man are directed to a hoax saucer where the ticket taker is a "harem guard". The old man suggests that may be a literal fact and to conclude otherwise is premature. Later Aluquere offers to vet the President's Secret Service Guards after Sam mentions (to a hole in the air?) that a high ranking Secret Service management type had been acquired (in the fresher as I recall?) Finally again as I recall another official gets a thumbs down from Aluquere and is immediately shot by the group with some byplay as to who shot first from the core group. I'm pretty sure of at least these 3 incidents but also the suggestion that in the absence of additional information the response is evidence but not conclusory - in the shooting as I recall the hag-ridden had a known history so....

There may be a narrative weakness or something I missed as the uncut adds some sexual behavior to life under the slugs - not as I recall on the topic of response to Aluquere but life with different restraints and entertainment.

#221 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 07:33 PM:

Laura: Questions: Was Heinlein really writing Gary Stus? When an author makes their political beliefs the center of their writing, that's not Gary-Stu-ism, is it (no matter how annoying)? And what about Friday? That's no Gary Stu (no matter how equally annoying).

IMO it's not the politics but the way they come from an omniscient character; a Gary Stu is right no matter what the facts are. Similarly, everyone loves a Gary Stu no matter how bad-tempered or otherwise unlovable he is; cf Lazarus Long in TEFL, in which both his clone daughters and his mother climb into his bed. Friday I'll grant you.

Laura: Well, he did something similar in I Will Fear No Evil - a casual reference to the non-white skin color of a minor female character.

Minor character? A black acquaintance of mine said the lead (Joann Eunice) is black, citing the comment about the colors she can wear. I'm not sure I believe that a small-town Midwestern high school would have made a black a cheerleader (which Eunice had been), but I don't know enough about all of the subcultures to argue it.

Avram: A further irony, if I remember the book correctly: The entire vital reason for the revolution -- the secret reason that Mycroft gives to the cabal -- is to establish a trade barrier because Luna will strip itself of resources trading with Earth.

I think you exaggerate; the object is not to establish a trade barrier but to make it possible for Luna to refuse to ship grain if it doesn't get replacement resources. (IIRC, the Professor says specifically -"send us your garbage and water and we'll send you grain."-) This is why several nations are encouraged to think about magnetic catapults. I also recall the Prof later suggesting that an outright embargo is necessary, but he's not the most reliable narrator.

Mitch: IIRC, it's made clear that the gay legals in IWFNE aren't interested in women -- one of them says something about Joann Eunice being \almost/ enough to make him interested. If so, their wives probably decided a long time ago that a pro forma marriage was better than nothing (at least a marriage to an established professional with a good income -- Kansas City speaking up there). I know of at least one private case, and Rock Hudson was an obvious public case.

#222 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 01:48 AM:

Jonathan, if you get a chance in Las Vegas (which is what Las Vegas is all about, right?), would you ask John Barnes a question for me: To what extent, if any, is Kaleidoscope Century a critique of Friday?

#223 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 02:27 AM:

adamsj:

"Jonathan, if you get a chance in Las Vegas (which is what Las Vegas is all about, right?), would you ask John Barnes a question for me: To what extent, if any, is Kaleidoscope Century a critique of Friday?"

You may need to remind me, as the date approaches. Also, there's no guarantee I'll be able to smuggle the data out. That's for the same reason that any alien invasion of Earth that starts with Vegas is doomed: "What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas."

Honestly, I should be going there, and I have spoken many a time with John Barnes. I spent 10 hours at the keyboard today, nonstop, (well, stopping to input coffee and offload fluid residue) and wrote 14,100 words of a too-long draft of my paper for the conference; 22 pages of 10-point single-spaced scholarly text. My son asked "But is it any good." Best I could answer was "well, parts of it are good." And I do cite Making Light... and quote Heinlein a lot.

#224 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 01:48 PM:

CHip responded to my comment:

Minor character? A black acquaintance of mine said the lead (Joann Eunice) is black, citing the comment about the colors she can wear. I'm not sure I believe that a small-town Midwestern high school would have made a black a cheerleader (which Eunice had been), but I don't know enough about all of the subcultures to argue it.

That's very interesting. The incident I was thinking of is when Eunice poses naked with another woman, and reference is made to their "contrasting skin colors." So obviously I could be wrong about whose skin was what color.

As for black cheerleaders: this book is set in the "future," which could mean that anything is possible.

Wow. Re-reading time.

#225 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 05:55 PM:

Here's what Heinlein scholar James Gifford has to say about Joan Eunice's race:

2. What is the race of Joan Eunice Smith (Eunice Evans Branca) in I Will Fear No Evil?

One answer is that Joan Eunice's race is indeterminate, and deliberately so. There is no explicit evidence in the book that she is either black or white. It is believed that Heinlein deliberately made her race a cipher, and is known to have worked on the book with two photos of beautiful women in front of him-- one blonde, one black.

However, Heinlein later made explicit references in correspondence to Joan Eunice as being black. The careful reader is invited to judge for him/herself.

#226 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 05:49 PM:

The character in Cat Who Walks Through Walls to whom the protagonist says the bit about "good thing we're the same color or I'd be called a racist" is named Sam Beaux.

Yes, really.

Oh, no subtext there.

#227 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 11:49 PM:

Mitch: I have my doubts about a "scholar" who can't even spell the character's name correctly. (Yes, I know being picayune can be a cheating way out of a losing argument -- in ordinary discussion; I'd argue stricter standards for "scholarship".) It's "Joan\n/", pronounced with two syllables (don't ask me why it wasn't spelled "Joanne") to reflect the predecessor's given name "Johann". And as Laura and I both point out, there certainly are hints, just nothing we can all agree is conclusive (unlike, say, Farnham's ]houseboy[).

Laura: I don't recall any clues that Gigi (Joe's new squeeze who posed with Joann) might have been black, but I don't have the patience to re-read IWFNE. Note that it's not very far in the future (Johann was old enough to have learned Depression cookery) -- but it's far enough from the writing date (1970) that RAH could have argued the change was possible.

#228 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2005, 12:28 AM:

Gah. Must learn not to post when I can't sleep. The pb edition of IWFNE does spell it "Joan"; I would have sworn the hb was "Joann" as I remember being puzzled by its in-betweenness. OTOH, just flipping through found me a scene in which she's told "the off-white sets off your skin"; maybe that could be said of a mestizo as well as a ]black[, but not of a pure ]white[ -- \that/ for Gifford's blonde.

#229 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2005, 03:09 PM:

CHip,

I do get tired of Gifford's opinions, but I can't say they aren't well-informed. Both the wife and I have gone through his Reader's Companion beaucoup times and I've yet to find an error.

His opinions are often head-shaking and sometimes book-tossing, but at least they're well-informed.

(I was looking at his discussion of periods in Heinlein's writing, and it dawned on me that there were only two periods--pre-Virginia and post-Virginia.)

#230 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2005, 09:36 PM:

adamsj: (I was looking at his discussion of periods in Heinlein's writing, and it dawned on me that there were only two periods--pre-Virginia and post-Virginia.)

That does \not/ sound right. I've read that Virginia dragged his SF rightwards (although I've also heard that unpleasant experiences from being in Russia during the U-2 crisis didn't help), but Gifford dates Virginia to 1948; Heinlein was writing competent-selfreliants all through that period. He may have gotten gradually more extreme about economics -- compare the government \adding/ money to keep the economy balanced in Beyond This Horizon, the mocking of govt subsidies in The Door into Summer, and the burn-it-all-down line in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress -- but those bridge your turning point; similarly, his self-indulgent phase becomes obvious only in the 1960's (Stranger in a Strange Land et al).

#231 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2005, 09:30 AM:

CHip,

I shoud've phrased that differently: There's a change in Heinlein's writing that begins about the time he got together with Virginia. His writing does seem different afterwards from what was there before.

This may just be my reaction to really enjoying going back through the early Heinlein. Still, it's hard to believe a writer could have a partner so intimately involved in his writing and that his writing not be affected by that partner.

#232 ::: Bruce Moomaw ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2005, 05:25 PM:

Lewis' target in "That Hideous Strength" was definitely NOT H.G. Wells, but George Bernard Shaw. Lewis utterly detested Shaw -- and attacked him in a whole series of fiction and nonfiction books -- on very good grounds: Shaw's loony fondness for dictatorships (provided that they were dictatorships which, at the moment, were pushing ideas that he himself approved of), and his might-makes-right "Life Force" redefinition of morality. (Weston's speech at the climax of "Out of the Silent Planet" is taken verbatim from "Man and Superman"; Lewis then translates it into vernacular English to show just how ridiculous and morally repulsive it really is.)

The plot absurdities of "That Hideous Strength" are more forgivable in this context -- while it seems ridiculous to us now that anyone could possibly have fallen for such a loathsome tyranny, it's a perfectly accurate portrayal of the kind of "utopias" that Shaw actually had been pushing for some time. As with anti-Semitism, it seems absurd to us now only because everyone has seen through it so completely by this point.

As for Wells: "Horace Jules", the titular President of the NICE, is obviously a takeoff on Wells, right down to the cockney accent. But Jules is also a total figurehead -- the only innocent in that sinister organization -- who clearly has absolutely no idea of the horrors being committed by it.

#233 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2005, 08:13 PM:

Bruce Moomaw:

I stand corrected. I had no idea how thoroughly C. S. Lewis understood the Nixon/Reagan/Bush/Rove concept of "plausible deniability."

Poor George W. Bush, a total figurehead -- the only innocent in that sinister organization -- who clearly has absolutely no idea of the horrors being committed by it.

Is it true that, this week, his staff was flabbergasted to find out that he didn't know the difference between -- or that there was a difference between -- Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd?

Lewis had different gradations of loathing for Socialism and Utopianism of various flavors -- I'm not surprised -- venal versus mortal sins in politics?

The Gitmo Screwtape Letters. This Hideous Mission Accomplished. Out of the Silent Press Conference.

#234 ::: Bruce Moomaw ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2005, 11:17 PM:

While he was a Tory, you'd have trouble proving that he was an extreme one. He wrote an extremely insulting poem about Roy Campbell's sympathy for Francoism, supported the League of Nations, called Joe McCarthy (at the height of his strength) an "American Hitler", opposed the "Lady Chatterly's Lover" trial, ended up supporting the National Health system in the late Fifties afer initial opposition (mostly becaue of the horror stories he was hearing from his American friends about private health care here), showed considerable sympathy for homosexuals (including in one passage in his autobiography), called John XXIII one of the greatest Popes in history, and least -- but not least -- fell ecstatically in love with, and married, a Jewish-American former Communist sympathizer. (On the latter's advice, by the way, he also read "Childhood's End" -- a Wellsian novel if ever there was one -- and rhapsodized about it: "An ABSOLUTE CORKER!") In short, while I have some mild qualms about some aspects of his politics, I have considerable difficulty regarding him as the Pius XII type.

As for Bush as a real-life Horace Jules: please. Jules really is a completely innocent dupe, and ends up getting killed as a result. (Nor would Lewis have been sympathetic toward Bush's willful stupidity. To quote from "Mere Christianity": "The slogan 'Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever' is nonsense. The correct slogan is 'Be good, sweet maid, and don't forget that this involves being as clever as you can.' God is not any fonder of intellectual slackers than he is of the other types.")

Finally, on the subject of Bushian Screwtape Letters: you're a bit late. Marshall Wittman has already written a whole series of them on his "Bull Moose Blog" site, although for some reason Screwtape has now taken to signing himself "K.R."

#235 ::: PaulB ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2005, 11:26 PM:

You realize that this practically cries out for some related threads; e.g., what authors have been so reliable throughout their careers that they never occasioned this kind of response? Or what authors actually improved when you returned to their works at a later time?

Three of my choices have already been much-discussed: Chalker, Heinlein, and Anthony. To that list, I'd add Spider Robinson, whose early work I liked very much and whose later work has been so godawful that I just can't look at the early work in the same way anymore.

#236 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 12:27 AM:

Narnia: When I figured out it was a Christian allegory, I made the mistake of sharing my "theory" with my (Jewish) friend Pete, who was also a big fan. He called me a liar, we had a big fight, and I've had a Cassandra complex ever since.

Don't blame yourself.
I'm Jewish too, and in high school a friend told me Narnia was Xian allegory and I just couldn't see it. Years later, when I read the Book of Matthew for a college class, I finally understood, but it's hard to see allegory without exposure to what's being allegorized.

#237 ::: Gary Cornell ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 02:15 AM:

I always thought that oen of the most underated Anthony books was the trilogy "Battle Circle" - and of course "Prostho Plus" for the fun of the book's idea :-)

#238 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 02:40 AM:

Happened to be rereading Friday during all the fuss about the CA governors' recall, when Schwarzeneger was elected. There was a very apropos description of California politics. [government by initiative] Never liked the book much before.

#239 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 04:50 AM:

PaulB wrote:
To that list, I'd add Spider Robinson, whose early work I liked very much and whose later work has been so godawful that I just can't look at the early work in the same way anymore.

In his forwards and afterwords in his anthologies, he's written a lot about what Ben Bova did for him in the beginning of his career. From what he said, the editing was ruthless and thorough, and Bova wouldn't publish him until he (Bova, emphatically *not* Robinson) was happy. I'm guessing that's what he's lacking now, someone with, above all, the *time* to engage in a battle of wills with an author to get them to kill three-quarters of their darling manuscript (novella seems to be the longest he can write and still be good.)

#240 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2005, 05:22 AM:

I remember back when Spider Robinson was reviewing for Analog and he trashed Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slapstick. He said something like, "The pity of it is that this son-of-a-bitch once knew how to write. And why."

When I read a story set in Callahan's Bar that rhapsodized about an automatic Irish Coffee-maker, I thought back to this line and nearly bit my tongue from the sheer irony.

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