October 26, 2004

Short stories by novelists

After reading Tim Powers' Night Moves and Julian Barnes' Cross Channel in close succession—alternation, really—I'd look for more short Barnes, as efficient doses of what I like Barnes for; but not for more short Powers. I have been wondering whether the problem is that Powers' style doesn't excerpt well, or whether it's that Powers tries to compress his stories instead of excerpting, and they really don't work for that. (His own afterword suggests that he thinks much the same.) One gets three brisk movements: something is creepy; it leaps dangerously to the foreground; the survivors face the rest of their lives with relief and diminished ambition. It's not a bad plot, but I like it better with the room for misdirection, foreshadowing, and research that his novels give him.

Cross Channel's stories sometimes resolve into diminished expectation, and they have enough WWI in them to obtain a little of the creepy, but they have a much wider range in pace and characterization. He doesn't compress as much plot into one story, although the whole make an arc. And, of course, Barnes is all lit'ry, which tends to excerpt well.

I especially liked "Hermitage", which improves two familiar genres by joining them: its main characters move to France to avoid the stuffy social conventions of England, but they don't go wild in Paris, they weave themselves into a rural southern village. I suppose it's three genres, if you count the depiction of a happy lasting marriage as a genre. The parallel that leaps to mind is Simon & Garfunkel's "Bookends", but there must be enough novels to make it a genre.

ISBN: 1892284901 (Night Moves)

ISBN: 0679446915 (Cross Channel)

Posted by clew at 09:19 PM | TrackBack

October 16, 2004

The Companions, Sheri S. Tepper

This is Edna St. Vincent Millay's "The Blue-Flag in the Bog", scientificted. The Gods are super-evolved aliens and the scrap to save is dutiful and diligent, man's friend, dog, genegineered to speak. Like the poem, the book is twee but not too.

In comparison with Radiant, the super-aliens are only concerned with what weak creatures do to each other, which I find more plausible both as a moral opinion and as a plot constraint. Tepper's heroine has much of the same put-upon competence as James Alan Garner's, though.

ISBN: 006053821X

Posted by clew at 05:50 PM | TrackBack

October 14, 2004

Tooth & Tongue, Bret Fetzer

I am thinking of the Oulipo. These fifteen fairy tales have all the standard parts, maybe only the standard parts; with so many canny peasants, greedy rulers, and pairs of sisters (pretty, plain), it should have felt repetitive; but it isn't. It's less repetitive than anthologies by different authors often are.

Therefore I have an image of Grimm's Fairytales cut into a prime number of cards (probably thirteen) and permuted; but not cut at the obvious lines. The results are exhaustive without being predictable.

This is a very dweeby reaction to have. I have no evidence from the book. I should instead praise the teasel prose and hyacinth dialogue. Also, there are illustrations, all disturbing.

Try reading the stories out loud for Halloween. If in Seattle, try to hear Fetzer read them himself; if not, he's recorded six stories as Fish & Fable.

ISBN: 097247630X

Posted by clew at 09:49 PM | TrackBack

Get Out or Die, Jane Finnis

A Roman-era British thriller/mystery; not as fun as Lindsey Davis, because the voice is too earnest and certain. The main character is a young woman who runs the family roadhouse in northern Britannia while her brother is off in the army; she's bright and organized and determined to stay, but she isn't subtle. Nor are her opponents, the defeated Britons yearning to kick out the invaders and restore the old ways. There are nods given to complex cultural and personal loyalties, but mostly it's a young person's adventure novel.

From the author's afterword, some of this is intentional; her main character is a settler and settlers probably aren't, as a rule, given to double-guessing themselves.

The Romans, like empire-builders through the ages, thought they had an absolute right to colonise wherever they chose, and were certain they were benefiting the peoples they conquered.

Mmmm, always so topical. I found myself kind of balanced between the assumption that invaders, especially slaveholding ones, are obviously the Bad Guys, and seeing this (as I expect anyone British would) with the hindsight of hundreds of years of prosperous Romano-Britons, and a mantle of empire patched together as an inheritance.

ISBN: 1590580753

Posted by clew at 09:27 PM | TrackBack

October 13, 2004

Politeness, Richard J. Watts

This isn't really a book review; other work has swamped me, so I'm returning Politeness to the library and leaving myself this placeholder.

But I did run across something that should be extra entertaining for female, Japanese-speaking, algorithmically minded persons, who are richly represented among my few known readers. This is George and Robin Lakoff's work on pragmatic, polite, linguistic competence, which Watts represents in a nice clear tree diagram:

Pragmatic Competence (PC)

  • Rules of politeness
    • Be clear
      • Quantity; be exactly as informative as required
      • Quality; only say what you believe to be true
      • Relevance; be relevant
      • Manner; be perspicuous, not ambiguous, succinct, not obscure.
    • Be polite
      • Don't impose
      • Give options
      • Make the other feel good - be friendly

It's so nice to see the layout of the rules we pretend to be following, in English-speaking computer companies, anyhow. Since the rules can't all be followed in a conversation with an antagonist, it's like living in a city with laws against having dust on your shoes: if the powers want to hassle you, they're guaranteed an excuse.

Obviously being Relevant and Truthful often collides with Don't Impose, especially in a civic world of colliding interests; then one might turn to George Lakoff's recent work on framing political differences, or Robin Tolmach Lakoff's The Language War.

ISBN: 0521794064

Posted by clew at 09:37 PM | TrackBack

October 01, 2004

Girl Genius, issue 12, Phil Foglio, Kaja Foglio, Laurie E. Smith

On p. 38 Dupree clearly pulls a button off Abner's jacket, which (last frame) seems to have been the only button with a through buttonhole; his jacket therefore hangs askew. Worse happens to him on p. 39, but at the top of p. 40 he's all buttoned square again.

This isn't the relevant Continuity Surprise, but the big one would be a spoiler for anyone who hasn't yet rushed out to read them all! All!

ISBN: 1890856290

Posted by clew at 08:18 PM | TrackBack
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