Friday, August 04, 2006

The New Lou Review

As hard as it is for me to see over my own slush pile, and with apologies to all my friends who are also writers and wonder why I haven't read their own books yet, I think that it's vital that an editor read outside the job, to keep his tastes honed and his sense of the industry up to date. It kills me all the incredible books that I don't have time to read when they debut (current thorn-in-flesh: David Marusek's Counting Heads, which I will get to.) And thank God for River of Gods, because given the glacial speed at which I read I've determined that the only chance I stand of reading the talked-about books as they come out is if I publish them myself. But I've managed to read the following four titles over the last six months or so, and thus, here we go:

Michael Moorcock's Multiverse

Mike and I are talking about a new project (details soon, I promise) in which a number of his famous characters feature. I've read a lot of his books, but he's written a lot more, and he suggested I pick up a copy of Multiverse to bring me up to speed. I remember when this came out originally, but I hadn't bothered with it then because I thought it was merely a novelization of some of his more famous tales in comic form. (Not that that isn't worthwhile, but I don't pick up too many comics these days.)

I had no idea. No novelization this, but the codex to the whole damn multiverse. This is essential Eternal Champion reading, the multiverse laid bare. I am astounded that Mike chose to pull back the curtain so far on the multiverse of his many famous novels in other than novel form. It's so interesting to me that he chose the comic book / graphic novel to be, not an introduction to his other works, but practically the last word on them. Even now I'm not sure how I feel about it - other than astounded it took me so long to read it and grateful that I did. I still sort of feel that someone should convince him to novelize this as the big, fat final book of the Eternal Champion series. (Then Mike can retire and go to sleep under the hill until such time as England faces its greatest need, when surely, he and his mightier-than-a-black-sword pen will return.)

But the other thing that struck me (aside from realizing how much Grant Morrison really pinches from Moorcock) is how similar two of the seminal influences from my youth actually are - at least thematically. I read tons of Moorcock as a teen, but as an early 20s something, I was heavy into Robert Anton Wilson. Seeing it all laid out in Multiverse, the parallel between Moorcock's Law vs. Chaos and Wilson's Illuminati vs. Discordians is so obvious. If it had been a snake, and all that. Especially with all those wacky Second Aether ships buzzing around (which reminded me a little of the ending of Schrodinger's Cat), and the games within games, people stepping in and out of their narratives, etc... Not to say that either was pinching from the other - (though maybe drinking the same koolaid around the 1960s) - only that there are striking similarities I'd never noticed until now.

Anyway, any Moorcock fan who hasn't read Multiverse needs to rush out and get a copy now.

Altered Carbon
by Richard K. Morgan

Yes, I know, I am way behind the curve on this one. And like Multiverse, my initial impression was off. I didn't realize how speculative Altered Carbon was. I knew about the sleeves and the noir, and my uninformed impression was that it ended there. The reviews I'd skimmed seemed to be focused on the violence and the grit, and I didn't grok how firmly SFNal this work was. I didn't realize that - apart from being just a plot contrivance - he took sleeving to the Nth degree (I love "dipping," for example; Morgan does for being resleeved what Sean Williams' does for teleportation in The Resurrected Man, in terms of looking into every single ramification), but I really didn't expect all the stuff with the Martians, etc... I found this book less gritty than promised but a good deal richer, more nuanced and layered. I can see why it was such a hit, and while it will take me years at the pace I read and the amount of spare time I don't have, I'm in for the whole series. Kovachs, you're the man.

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

I managed to snag an Advance Reader Copy of this at BEA and thought I'd be all clever and blog about it in advance of publication, but the best laid plans and all that. The short of it is that I finally found a book that really is, as the hype promises, the new Tipping Point. If you recall, I was dissatisfied with Freakonomics on that scale, though I owe Freakonomics an apology in that it has given me more than one item of dinner party conversation since, but it was by no means as meaty a work as the Gladwell. The Long Tail, by contrast, should be required reading for anyone in sales, publicity or marketing, as well as content producers (whether musicians, artists or writers) everywhere. There's enough written on the Long Tail all over the net that I really don't have to go into it here beyond saying the book lives up and the ideas are fascinating. But I am gratified that Anderson's future - which I was afraid was only good for content aggregators not content creators - does seem to have an upside for the artists and producers after all.

I'm also indepbted to Anderson for this great quote from David Foster Wallace:

“TV is not vulgar and prurient and dumb because the people who compose the audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests.”

Proven Guilty
by Jim Butcher

One of the problems with a customizable Internet environment is that it's very easy to self-select yourself into a bubble, where the only news you get confirms your preset opinions and the only media you enjoy is guaranteed to be like all your other media. Anderson makes a good case that the sort of user-generated filtering the Long Tail is bringing about actually acts like stepping stones to drive consumers deeper into niche, but sometimes it still takes effort to step farther afeild of your comfort zone. The Dresden Files are a pretty big departure from my usual reading habits, as I'm sure anyone who follows this blog knows. But, apropo of our recent cover art discussion, I've been staring at that gorgeous Chris McGrath illustration on the cover at the local B&N for some weeks now. So when a copy fell into my lap on a recent visit to NY, a trip on which I had over-estimated how much time it would take me to finish the aforementioned Altered Carbon, I found myself with nothing to read on the plane home. And I was curious to see what all the fuss is about.

Now, if I'd known ahead of time that a portion of this novel actually involves the old horror movie monsters coming to life ploy - a contrivance so worn one would think that it would be afraid to rear its clichéd head outside a Scooby Doo cartoon - I would never have picked this book up. And, it must be said, I was irritated by his K.I.S.S. descriptions - as when someone arrives wearing a "Greek style tunic." Greek style? Do you mean Minoan, Mycenaean, Hellenic? Are we talking Roman Greece? Surely not modern? Nope, just "Greek style." But, hey, we all know what that means. One of those nondescript white costumes they pull out of wardrobe whenever they have a visiting goddess or demigod on Buffy or Angel or Xena or Charmed. So instead of grumbling that no one who writes the books I normally read would have penned that, I decided to get with the program. And guess what?

I had a blast. An absolute blast. The horror movie cliché is the smallest part of the plot, which is quite convoluted, and, despite the enormous backstory (seven previous novels I've not read) and the huge ensemble of characters, gave me no trouble when it came to diving in. And there is a real lesson to be learned in the way Butcher handles all this, because while I never felt left out, neither did I notice any horrendous infodumps or "for those who came in late" expository pages. This is very firmly post-Buffy storytelling (even if it wasn't inspired by Buffy, it's riding a Buffy-wave), but I found that I liked it for all the same reasons I liked that - likeable characters, secret cabals, ancient orders that are ostensibly good but are a bit high & mighty to be trusted to have the protagonist's best interest at heart, a superimposition of supernatural on a contemporary setting, colloquial/naturalistic dialogue. There's an RPG feel to the combat that probably sits better with RPGers, and some of the protagonist's "manly" character is a bit reminiscent of the gender-biases I left at the threshold of my fraternity when I graduated college in the 80s (a "guys don't hug each other" mentality that I don't relate to, but that's just me). But what Butcher does, he does VERY well. This is a fast, fun, suprisingly engaging read and by no means simple in the crafting of its extended universe. So while I've got no immediate plans to stop bemoaning the deluge of vampire-slayers flooding our shelves, nor hoping for an end in sight to paranormal romance, I wouldn't mind checking in on Harry Dresden again next time I find myself on a long plane flight looking for something fun to pass the time. Or buying Butcher a beer at a con and thanking him for the pleasure he's afforded this commuter.


Aaron Hughes said...

I agree with your thoughts on Altered Carbon. The second Kovacs book, Broken Angels is also very good, but the most recent one, Woken Furies, is a comparative disappointment.

Dianora said...

Greek style? Do you mean Minoan, Mycenaean, Hellenic? Are we talking Roman Greece? Surely not modern? Nope, just "Greek style." But, hey, we all know what that means.

Lou, can you HEAR me rolling my eyes at you??? ;) Glad you liked the Butcher once you were able to get past your own nerdiness. Heh. Seriously, you should check out some of the earlier books, particularly Death Masks or Summer Knight. And Jim is a very funny and sweet motormouth of a guy, you'd like him.

Lou Anders said...

I really did like the book. Again, will be very hard for me to read more anytime soon, but I will read more. I might have to get the hc of Dead Heat for the matching McGrath cover as well.