Posts Tagged With: Books

Why Genre Writing Matters

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Yesterday i spent a long drive down to Burlington, Wisconsin to play a board game with some old friends. Now, by old, i mean we aren’t old. Older than we were, for sure. But time’s a funny thing. You don’t see it passing, it just does and one day you’re 40 and you haven’t seen those people you grew up with for 20 years or so, but even that time… weird though it is… evaporates as soon as you are in a basement with dice in your hand playing a board game. Just like you used to do.

But this isn’t really about that. Maybe i’ll hold that one off for later.

This is about the writer i heard on the news radio station i was listening to on the way down there. I don’t remember her name, but i can tell you she’s a shakespearean professor of english and she writes Romance. From the sound of things she makes a freaking KILLING at it too. Note – this is also not a promotional ad for all budding writers to run out and scribble some romance for the sake of riches.

Anyway, she chatted a little about the killing she was making at it and most importantly how those in her profession – her literary colleagues – were oblivious to it. They were completely unaware that her professor salary was dwarfed in the extreme by the small fortune she was raking in for writing pulpy bodice rippers. Well. Ain’t that just the shit?

I grew up with Genre writing. I didn’t know it at the time. I just thought Genre writing was called books. But i poured through The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown. I graduated, slowly, to horror through Stephen King and then to… ahhh… this is fun… The Dragonlance Chronicles by Weis and Hickman. I was so damned envious when one of my friends scored a signed copy of Dragons of… something. I read them all. Then i soaked in Sci Fi for a while – Heinlein, Card, and then…

Neuromancer. I’ll be honest. Neuromancer broke my brain. The prose. Hell, i didn’t even really know what prose was at the time but i knew this was something different. For a while, William Gibson became my god and everything became Cyberpunk. Everything. And it was a delight. The world was complicated. Fast. Beautiful like moonlight on a heap of discarded computer parts or neon glinting on gutter junk.

Somewhere along the way, though, i stopped.

But that’s not a tragedy. There is more to the world than Genre fiction. I don’t regret for a second falling in love with Steinbeck or Hemingway or Austen or Fitzgerald. I would be an utter idiot for not falling for it. It’s beautiful, amazing stuff and it’s expanded my brain further than i think Genre fiction would have been able to. Plus, and this is really it, i burned out on Genre. It became harder and harder to find GOOD books in fantasy or Sci Fi. So much of it just seemed the same. It wasn’t the sort of hell i ever expected but it did suck.

The point of all this autobiographical blah blah is that there is still something to Genre fiction. There’s a reason so many people still read and love it and frankly, i think i got it. I got the bug again. And here it is – here’s the big secret that i think is worth telling. Shhhh… don’t let too many people know.

Genre fiction brings you hope.

There. There it is. That’s the secret.

I was watching Tomorrowland with George Clooney or as my friend and i like to call him Eyorhay Kloonay. It’s not a bad little film. Flashy. Fun. But one part stuck with me. The main character is sitting in school through a series of montages of her classes as she’s being bombarded with the negative reality of the world she lives in – war, famine, global warming, starvation, etc. Her hand is perpetually up and perpetually ignored. Finally, at the end of the montage, the teacher allows her to ask her question. What is her question?

How do we fix it?

Okay. And that’s pretty genius. Cuz here we are and the world seems like it’s falling apart around our shoulders and everything sucks and people are getting stupider and blathering bullshit everywhere we look and it gets really depressing when you see glaciers calve off and ice shelfs fall into the sea and everyone is all like ‘lalalalalalaaaaa!!! Let’s fucking PARTAY!’

But Genre fiction… It asks the question. How are you going to fix it? It ennobles the idiotic savage. How many sci-fi stories have inspired new scientists? Neil Degrasse Tyson has indicated that it’s inspired him. How many fantasy stories have made activists of kids who have gotten inculcated into the concept of evil. They WANT to be heroes. Maybe it’s not the only thing, but start them young on something… and miracles are possible.

Hell start em old. Start them whenever. In Mysteries, terrible crimes get solved in a way they so rarely do when we see all the blood splashed all over the news. In fantasy, we fight evil and we win. In sci fi we explore and face our fears of the unknown. In romance we find love in spite of terrible obstacles.

We fucking need these things. Particularly now when the world DOES seem so horrible. We need to believe in doing the right thing, being brave, exploring. The challenges are HUGE and… well.. this is just my opinion but the only damned thing that is going to save our asses against the ever-yawning void of the banality of tragic indifference is an ascendancy of imagination.

Remember that part of Lord of the Rings when Gandalf is talking about the ephemeral nature of hope? Yeah. That. Right there. How many kids read that and said: Fuck yeah. That’s going to be me some day. I’m going to stand in front of the Witch King of Angmar and though he’s going to rend me to ribbons, it’s where i need to stand. How many looked into the stars and saw themselves in a spaceship scudding among them?

Genre fiction spits in the face of the impossible. It eats it for breakfast and poops out rainbows. And hell… we can’t go wrong when it teaches us that you can stand with a dwarf and an elf and battle a freaking dragon. A. FREAKING. DRAGON. It says: yeah… i know these people are weird, different, different races that i don’t really understand but right now, these are the crew that are going to battle THAT big fricking dragon so i don’t give one god damn that one’s short and the other has pointy ears.

So, yeah. We need it. And i’m happy to write it. I want to do it as well as i know how because i WANT some kid to read it and be like ‘hell yeah. This is what justice is all about. This is what friendship is all about. This is what i’m looking to create in MY life.’

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All Hail Emperor Zhark!: Something Rotten Book review

Three days ago, sunday, i went to the not really local but still independent bookstore in the neighborhood and picked up three books. One of these books was the fourth of the Thursday Next series of books which my few minions will recognize that i’m totally addicted to. I finished it last night.

Generally i don’t read that fast. I don’t want to read that fast. I’m one of those ‘savor the book in a slow feast’ type guys, having a little morsel here and there, tearing off a chunk to chew on my way to work, etc. But Fforde lays a table of candy coated feasty goodness and i turn into a kid in a candy shop – i know, unforgivable use of cliche. The strange thing about Fforde’s writing is it doesn’t leave me full – in fact it’s like a delicious feast that leaves you wanting more, and luckily for all inquisitive readers the books are like launch pads to explore other writers, other books.

Book four finds our Plucky Heroine finally reappearing out of Bookworld to do dubious battle with the great and all too powerful Goliath Corporation (now trying to convert themselves into the most popular religion), and the fictional (fictional, of course taking on an entirely different significance here) English Chancellor Yorrick Kaine. She brings with her a new son, Friday, a juvenile delinquent Dodo Bird, Alan (son of the wonderful Pickwick) a morose Danish Prince who is worried about his penchant for equivocating, and the memories of a husband who never existed.

If you are familiar at all with the style of these books you’ll soak it in quick – that feeling of a great big plot stew, everything thrown in (including bits you think probably shouldn’t) add a dash of extreme weirdness and voila – a wonderfully strange novel you think can’t possibly work but somehow does. I honestly don’t know how Fforde manages to hold the whole thing – and his head – together while writing these gleeful hodgepodges. I know, for myself, i would probably send for the guys in white coats after finishing every novel, but somehow he manages to pull it off, leaving the reader just a little dizzy.

Well last night the novel left me with a serious case of the sniffles which is a first in the series. A beloved character, whose arc i managed to figure out a while back, finally revealed herself and expired and, well, in the middle of six foot hedgehogs, talking gorillas, a displaced Dane with an affection for Mel Gibson films, and plot devices so convoluted and twisted that the forest of them is opaque with baroque twists, there i was dazzled by a moment of honest tenderness.

the down side to attempting to write a review of such a thing is that it’s basically impossible to show the moments that produced the excitement and happiness without totally revealing the plot and ruining the experience for others. I mentioned this sensation before, but i reiterate the fact that i can only say the book is a whole lot of fun, and Fforde – though reigning in the dazzling cleverness of the last two novels – still retains a panache for the absurd that is not simply praiseworthy but should be lauded across the land – particularly in a world that seems to grow increasingly dire with each passing minute.

So maybe this isn’t the book you’ll be discussing with your literary friends trying to convince them that you’re a brilliant post avant critique, but it is one that you’ll tell your other friends about – the one’s who still stand slack jawed and marvel at words, and plots and characters. The one’s who might still read Hamlet for fun will get it, and if you know of any people who have privately whispered their admiration for Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams they will thank you for the suggestion.

And of course, Emperor Zhark – bloodthirsty interstellar tyrant that he is, is a wonderful character. Just sayin.

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