March 20, 2004

Sunshine, Robin McKinley

An ex-busker I once worked with divided acts into Cheap Tricks and Sure Things. These overlap, he said, but not much. Most of us mostly make our living on Cheap Tricks that work pretty well; too often we stick to a trick while it loses all its pull. While young or driven, we might work hard enough to pull off the really expensive Sure Things.

Watching a recording of Alegría reminded me of that; I have mixed feelings about the Cirque du Soleil because the physical work is very sure-thing (and definitively expensive); the costuming also; but the framing narratives such-as-they-are and the style of the music get boring because I can guess the cheap trick coming. (It all sounds like Vangelis' version of the "Orchestra Hit" button on a synthesizer.)

Sunshine had a similar effect on me. That is, I was glued to the pages, but there were many annoying stretches barely rescued by McKinley's ability to revivify clichés. The worst cliché is the Doomed Romance with a vampire who's a Good Guy, Really, But Tormented. Cheap trick! The heroine is too smart and world-wise for me to really believe the romance, even though the vampire in question isn't a bad antihero. Maybe she'll cut out her own heart to get away from him in a sequel.

I'm afraid she won't have to, because she has inherited unprecedented abilities that take some work, but not nearly as much work as everyone else's seem to. That's a pet peeve of mine. In a book, you'd think more people would be willing to admit seven years of study and practice, if compressed into one chapter.

The rest of the heroine's life is convincingly complex; she's the baker for the linchpin coffeehouse in a recovering bad neighborhood. The baking is really convincing. For one thing, she has worked at learning it for her whole life, leaving little time to do or even think of anything else. Her experiments are still actual experiments; many fail. Also, even while famished she criticizes other bakers' cheap tricks.

The neighborhood is recovering from an overt war with the vampires, which everyone knows humans barely won, if we won at all. Vamps control a great deal of global capital already, and some ill-defined fraction of the Internet, etc. These bits gave me a nice schematic view of the vampires as the aristocrats of late-stage capitalism, devouring ag towns and rust-belt cities around the world. The café and the baker are the Jane Jacobs and Slow Foods and human-scale forces feebly allied against the vampires. I doubt McKinley meant that schema, but because she writes descriptions of magic that do use isomorphisms, my ear was tuned to catch such patterns and that one swam right in.

It might be as sensible a story as one can construct from post-Buffy pop vampires. I think it's more sensible than Buffy, perhaps because shorter and therefore less full of conflicting plot detail and retroactive-continuity. McKinley almost avoids the goshawful plot-device information dumps characteristic of Laurel K. Hamilton.

ISBN: 0425191788

So wrote clew in SF&F. | TrackBack
And thus wrote others:
TrackBacks turned off...