The other month, a to-be-commended HRSFalum asked through HRSFANS-discuss for good books to bring on a long vacation, imposing only constraints that they be in-print (reasonably available) mass-market PBs. As one might expect, this generated an excellent recommendations list (which someone really ought to collate for the HRSFANS wiki—shoot, I volunteered again, didn’t I?), if rather heavy on SF/F and historical fiction with SF/F elements. But there’s nice range to the discussions, as well; and a bit of back-and-forth amongst the recommenders.
One day into the discussion, Tony cautioned:
His Majesty’s Dragon, like Name of the Wind, Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and Vlad Taltos are all unfinished series, and I’d really recommend reading the GREAT books on this list that are DONE before reading ones we don’t know how they turn out.
This seems to involve a bit of legerdemain in categorization, comparing “unfinished series” to “books … that are DONE.” A series pretty much by definition comprises several books completed in their own right (or at least to the extent that individual publishing is deemed warranted). His Majesty’s Dragon is done, as are five successor novels: the author is not yet done with all stories she intends to set in the Temeraire universe, but why should her artistic and/or business decision in our reality handicap the readability of books already available?
Even if the intent is to recommend complete series (such as The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) over ongoing ones (from the barely-begun City of a Hundred Rows through the apparently-still-kicking Song of Ice and Fire all the way to, I suppose, Wheel of Time?), why should the expected number of additional related books be a more compelling reason against or for reading volume 1 (or 5) than the qualities of the specific volume in question?
And how does this square with Tony’s own list of recommendations, emailed to the thread the previous day, including “Hyperion by Dan Simmons (only read the first book!)”? Once a reader knows how a set of related books “turns out,” s/he can choose only the “GREAT” one, but that same reader should hold off reading a GREAT book that might yet have good, bad and/or indifferent successors?
Please allow me only barely to mention the undead series, completed by their creators for good or bad and re-animated in subsequent decades (Dune being probably the most extreme example—in this aspect as in others—but with the Foundation books an arguably even weirder case, since they were re-animated first by Asimov himself and then again by his estate!).
I say, read any given book on its own terms. As I’ve written before, if it is a GREAT book there will obviously be further stories to tell, but that does not mean you need feel any duty to seek out any more of those stories, or to believe any related stories just because the same person (or an anointed successor) wrote them.6 comments
Earlier this fall I encountered an pair of goddesses to enthrall me, part of a larger pantheon on display in a coffee shop. More recently I found contact information for the artist, Jonah Kamphorst, and asked for their stories; he has been kind enough to send some preliminary pointers prepared for an earlier show.
I had earlier on the evening I wrote to Jonah re-read my other recent post on fiction, reality, and communication by/through artists. This pretty clearly influenced the particular questions I posed of this artist:
Are they from a world of yours? If so, to what degree are they yet fleshed out in your consciousness? If not, where else can I look for more?
Jonah’s response is that he created the goddesses (note the direction of the agency) for himself, but has hoped others might find them illustrative or more. Also that he has an “extensive narrative … which is nowhere near complete” regarding them.
I haven’t checked yet, but my first guess is that Jonah has less than extensive experience writing narrative fiction so far. Again, as I noted last month, many writers seem to find themselves less than entirely in control of their narrative worlds. Also, I would describe none of my favorite fictional worlds as “complete”—or at least not as “completely described.” Wholeness in a world, whether this in which we live or those into which we follow storytellers’ great tales, is to my senses crucially dependent on there being always more to discover. One should always sense that one does not yet know everything that’s going on. Even, I expect, as a world’s creator.
Certainly that’s how I maintain my self-respect as a proper Dune fanatic: by insisting that it is not a universe belonging to and best understood by Frank Herbert. Herbert was merely the first to show it to us.
Likewise, I quite without remorse discarded Farscape barely into Season 3 and Six Feet Under part-way through Season 2, feeling the writers had lost track of their characters. And, despite my continued absorption in and deep respect for the character creation from Martha Cooley in The Archivist, I feel she mistakes her plot at the end.
Nur and Xyn here, from Jonah Kamphorst’s pantheon, remind me visually somewhat of “The two sisters,” from Margaret Mahy‘s The Door in the Air, and Other Stories, although these two are not actually complements as Jennifer and Jessica are. The obvious visual influences of Indian, Celtic, and cyberpunk cultures are quite striking and super-fun in combination. The image of Xyn linked here, though, does not quite feel the same as when I first saw it; it may be a different image, or possibly I feel different enough looking at it through the computer screen. In either case, I don’t have quite as forceful a feeling today as I did earlier this fall that there is more to discover—but it’s forceful enough.1 comment
Laura Miller‘s The Magician’s Book is a lit-crit-cum-memoir of loving, losing, and making peace with the Chronicles of Narnia. (I have made my way through this book only one third at a time, with one third yet to be read on the next go-round from the library. The second third was quite difficult for me.) Miller read the Narnia books passionately, with utter absorption, between about ages 9 and 14, until she was clued in to the books’ Christian symbolism (generally regarded as fairly obvious). At that age, Miller was even more passionately disillusioned with the Catholic Church: she felt the need to reject Narnia, feeling betrayed. The rest of The Magician’s Book comprises the musings of Miller, with input from many other Narnia-experiencers, on why she loved the works, what there is not to love about them, and how she, well into adulthood and her own career as a literary critic, came to terms again with what ‘in one sense will always be the best book I’ve ever read’ (Lion, Witch &c.). Philip Pullman‘s thinking and writing makes a more than cursory appearance, as is to be expected; Miller has previously written about Pullman specifically in connection with Lewis.
Some of Miller’s material was garnered from a Salon.com set of conversations with readers; though I’m having trouble finding links to those pages, there’s also a recent conversation with Miller posted on Salon regarding The Magician’s Book.
Early in Miller’s work I discovered C.S. Lewis‘s An Experiment in Criticism, a delightful little volume the central suggestion of which is that the value of a book lies perhaps less in how it is written and more in how it is read. I’ll be obtaining that from the library again momentarily, and will no doubt share more.No comments
And if you’d like to advise me on the course I am thinking of putting together, also great. I set up a Google Groups page for discussion on my curriculum. I’d love input!
The basic idea will be explorations into the process of reading and the experience of stories. I came to this idea through a recent penchant for philosophizing on reading. Speculative fiction often provides excellent metaphors for the reading experience–Narnia being an obvious example, and David Brin’s Kiln People one of my favorites. I’d like to take that as one day’s theme, and also expand/expound (or, better yet, lead discussions) on different literary forms, how we experience them and how we’re meant to experience them.
Help much appreciated! Respond here, by email, or through my Google Groups page (which I might like best because then my other friends who are willing to help can weigh in).No comments
I stared at the computer for some time before beginning to write this. Decompression time. Sometimes coming out of a book really is like rising out of deep water, isn’t it—bends and all.
Part of the agreement I made in beginning to post to this weblog was to write about what I’m reading. I suppose I’ll start by writing about how I read.
I read many works in parallel, because my tastes change with mercurial alacrity (okay, so I just wanted to use the word “alacrity”), and more importantly because I frequently want time to digest a chapter or scene in a story. (This makes me the perfect kind of reader to adore the Amazon Kindle, and indeed I do. Mine is named “The Guide, Mark II.”) My philosophy of reading holds that I owe nothing to a book merely because I begin to read it. I will quite happily discard a book after 3 pages, 100, or 300, rarely looking back. However, if I do intend to finish a book, I shoulder the (occasionally awesome) responsibility of learning the characters on their own terms, of allowing them their full measure of existence.
I loaned The Archivist to a friend who reads entirely differently from me (who once as an escape read half of War and Peace in two days, and feels compelled to finish every book he starts). The next morning he handed it back with a simple, “It was good. Let’s talk later.” His major critique of the book was that Ms. Cooley should have let the ideas percolate another 20 years or so before writing the book: it seemed a “green” undertaking to him. Although he may have a point, I still feel I too had a point when I responded, “Who are you to say that? You didn’t even give her two days.”
I have a friend who for several intense months at age 11 or so went around murmuring scenes from Lord of the Rings under her breath, imagining herself tromping along as a tenth member of the Fellowship. Another who has spoken of planning lighting schemes and camera angles as if to stage and film favorite scenes from stories. My imagination works differently. I rarely see the characters of whom I read, though I sometimes see through their eyes. I hear them speak, but it always sounds like my own voice. I feel my body move their gestures. I suppose I try personally to experience the story.
Which is more or less how, in the world of The Worthing Saga, telepathy works. If they “look into the minds” of others, the telepaths experience those others’ memories as their own. This can cause all sorts of philosophical/psychological quandaries if the “viewee” is a very different sort of person from the telepath, who has done very different things, had (to the telepath) inconceivable reactions to the stimuli of life. Twice so far in Worthing there have been conversations where one character says to another, “Your life is more real to me than mine. How did you take my life from me?” But it’s not that anyone’s life is erased—just that the overwhelming force of someone else’s strongest memories may seem more evocative than one’s own “normal” life.
The more I read, especially in good speculative fiction, the more metaphors I find for the reading experience. I think this one, from Card, will last me for a while. And of course Card is the author who wrote, in a 1991 introduction to Ender’s Game, “The ‘true’ story is not the one that exists in my mind; it is certainly not the written words on the bound paper that you hold in your hands. … The story is the one that you and I will construct together in your memory.” I hope all my favorite authors have such faith in me. I hope I may live up to that faith.No comments