bondgwendabond on teaching writing.
buymeaclue on bondgwendabond
truepenny on reading science fiction and the evolution of the canon.
Book 21: Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lamora
I really, really like this book. Let's get that right out there in front, because then there's some stuff I'm going to pick apart. I highly recommend it to just about anybody who liked The Stainless Steel Rat, Fafhrd & the Mouser, Thieves' World, et al. It's got vivid characters, a gorgeously realized fantasy city (Camorr is going to be remembered as One Of Those Milieux. It's a fantastic city, with smells and sounds and a distinctive rattle to its cough.), and fast-paced action. It's not quite as vibrant as, say, Neveryona--but this is a first novel. And scott_lynch (you know how weird it is reviewing somebody who reads this blog?) has a wicked sense of humor.
Now, the sticky bits.
So he's using this structure, where Locke Lamora's backstory is being revealed in parallel with the front story, as it were. And there's a cliffhanger hook at the end of each section of backstory, drawing the reader forward. It works really well. That is to say, once it settles down; the prologue, while necessary and useful to the story, breaks the pattern of the rest. And is confusing. And structurally, a bit of a dog's breakfast.
In other words, it gets the job done, but it isn't pretty. If you're not a structure freak, you'll never notice. Also, there are some patches of slightly rough writing. But there are also a lot of really good, vivid, powerful ones. And it goes by fast. This is a book that drags you around by the shirt collar, and I mean that in the best way possible.
My more significant tripping point is the POV choice. The book is nearly in omniscient. Except.... well, there's that small structural problem again. Mostly, it's a fairly tightly limited omni, without headhopping. This, unfortunately, makes it at first look like poor POV discipline, by which I mean, using any convenient pair of eyes to tell the story. Which is an easy way to tell the story. Because you can give any scene from the POV of the person who most knows what's going on, or whose reactions are more revealing, or who does not know the thing you want to conceal. But it has a pretty devastating opportunity cost, I think; we have a hard time finding sympathy for Locke... who is kind of a hard guy to plug into anyway. Now, I'm not a reader who Wants An Audience Identification Character At All Costs. But. It can be a bit distracting in this case. Especially when, without warning, the camera can pull back into full omni for a paragraph or two, usually to set a scene or deliver a portentous bit of foreshadowing. It, you know... well, it gets the job done, she said again. But it isn't as pretty as it could be.
I'm going to hazard a guess that it's an instinctive writing choice rather than a considered one, because of its kind of inconsistency, but I could bloody well be making an idiot of myself.
On the other hand, that also hits its stride by the time the third chapter rolls around.
On the other paw, however, I really feel the need to comment on the textures of the landscape. Those are well-served by the POV choice, and I think might have been even better served by a true omniscient (really, I just want to see everybody suffer under the yoke of omni-POV), which could show us the sweep and scope of Camorr, and also its narrowness, its darkness and grit.
There's a lot of thematic subtlety here, too. The title is a big clue, of course. Lies are what the book is all about, and lies are what Locke Lamora is all about. But there's a whole circus of thematic resonance cartwheeling around that simple statement. And I don't want to give too much of that aspect away, because it's very cool. This is, in many ways, a delicate and inobvious book, with enough sheer whee value for the groundlings, as it were.
Overall, rollicking, thoughtful, a lot of fun, and a sheer pleasure to read. I'm not done with it yet, but I keep being annoyed when I have to do other things.
Via one of the Man from UNCLE mailing lists I'm on, a Chevy commercial from 1965. Anything the sponsors want, baby. And smile while you read the script. (You really have to view the .wmv file for the full effect.)
So, genre. I'm an idiot to want to talk about this, but here we go.
When I was in school, I was fortunate enough to learn from Dr. Tom Roberts, a professor at the University of Connecticut who is also the author of An Aesthetics of Junk Fiction. I don't agree with all of his ideas, but one thing that really stuck with me was the idea he had of genre rewarding broad reading--that there's a lot of value in the conversation, as opposed to the individual works.
(Which is not to say that there are not individual works of vast literary value within the SFF canon.)
I've been noticing for a while that a fair number of the books hailed as classics within the genre are, by objective standards, not exactly heartbreaking works of shattering genius. And then there are some books that I think are heartbreaking yadda yadda, that more or less sink without a ripple. (And let me clarfiy here and say I'm not talking about me. Even a little bit. Even sideways.) And I think in some cases--perhaps many cases--the merit of those books which are, you know, pretty good, but not classics for the ages... well, maybe it's overinflated or overhyped. Or maybe what's going on is that they're being assessed not for their own literary merit, but for what they contribute to the argument.
Which allows me, as a reader, to look at those books again and find something of merit in them that I didn't before.
Which may, at last, give me a definition of genre that I'm happy with. Genre is the meta-conversation that the book attempts to engage.