Category Archives: Reading as a Writer

On Reading as a Writer

Okay, so I have been blogging about what I read under the heading of ‘reading as a writer’ for almost two months now, but up until now I haven’t really stopped to explain what I mean by that.

As I have said more than once, I am an avid reader, some times writer and full-time misfit… and the order of those statements does matter. You see, being a reader is, almost by definition a preamble to becoming a writer (being a misfit, on the other hand, is just a bonus), but one of the things I have noticed in the last few years is that there is a considerable difference in how I approach what I read nowadays. When I was a kid I used to read just for the fun of it, that was easy enough. When I was in college I was forced to look at the scholarly aspect of things, and truth be told that one pretty much squeezed all the joy out of the experience. Reading became a chore… one I didn’t particularly care for. Yes, I had one great teacher that made me appreciate whatever it was that we were studying –a cantankerous old bastard who insisted on handwritten papers and actually cared deeply about each and every one of his students– but unfortunately he was the exception, not the norm. Still, he was there, and that kept me from becoming disenchanted with literature altogether. That was stage two. Stage three kind of crept up on me and it was born out of a combination of two different factors. After stage two I had gone back to reading just for the joy of it, and I was finally free to explore my own interests, but at the same time I had already discovered fanfiction. Continue reading On Reading as a Writer

Out of the Past, Into the Future

A fair warning, this is going to be a really bizarre post that probably won’t seem to make much sense, at least not at first glance. How bizarre? Well, it deals with two series of books written by American women that depict the lives of girls around the age of sixteen. One of the series begins when the leading character is that age, the other basically ends at that point; one of these series looks forward, the other looks back; one is autobiographical (or something like it), the other one is not… and time-wise the distance between the publication date for the last book in the first of these series and the release of the first book of the second one is less than seventy years. These similarities and differences make for an interesting chance to analyze how we see ourselves, how we see the world around us, where we come from and where we are going. So what are these two series? Well, the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, of course. Continue reading Out of the Past, Into the Future

Of Annoyingly Decent Bad Guys

A few months ago I decided to sit down and read Harry Potter from beginning to end. Seeing how those books have been analyzed to death, and then some, I won’t go into too many details, but I was reminded of one thing that has been bugging me since I first came across the first book. Throughout the series we have Lord Voldermort as the ruthless supervillain, doing everything within his power to kill our noble hero… and yet in book one he squandered what was the most obvious chance he had to get rid of the brat once and for all by being, out of all things, too freaking decent. What I mean is that when Harry and Hermione come to Snape’s challenge they are confronted with a number of flasks, each containing a different potion. One of these allows you to go forward, one allows you to go back, two are harmless and three are downright deadly… so why didn’t Quirrell just rearrange the bottles so that by solving the riddle Harry and Hermione would just have ended up poisoning themselves? Any ideas?

Holy Morlocks!

I just finished Stephen Baxter’s The Time Ships (1995). This semi-official sequel to H.G. Wells The Time Machine (it was authorized by Wells’s estate) makes for an interesting read, but unfortunately it also feels something like a doughnut. It begins well enough, but even though I liked the seventh –and final– book as well as the epilogue, books five and six felt somewhat tedious, out of place and out of character. And before we go any further, a fair warning: while I usually try to avoid spoilers in these reviews, in this particular instance it won’t be entirely possible for me to do that. No, I won’t be giving away the ending of the book, but I am going to be commenting on some of the specifics regarding both the characters and the events it depicts.

Now, as a sequel to a book that was written a hundred years prior, the author had the not insignificant challenge of trying to merge two styles and two moral codes into his work: Wells’s and his own. This is something that, at least for the first four books, he mostly manages to accomplish. The one place where I feel he gets into trouble is when it comes to the Morlocks. Continue reading Holy Morlocks!

A Stroll Across the Multiverse

Okay, so in these past few days I have been spending too much time reading and too little time blogging about it. In fact since my last post I finished The Long Earth (a Pratchett/Baxter collaboration) and The Homeward Bounders (by Diana Wynne Jones). Both books are worth reading and, against all odds, they make for an interesting combination since, in spite of their rather obvious differences, they do share a number of common elements, starting with the fact that both deal with the subject of parallel worlds. Sure, one deals mostly with what the sudden availability of a countless number of Earths would mean for human society as a whole while the other is a fantasy novel that deals with the adventures of a group of kids who become pawns in a sort of cosmic game that spans a multitude of worlds, but at least there is a common element that can serve as a connecting point, while painting two completely different pictures.

The problem is that while these two books do make a good ‘double feature’ analyzing them together isn’t easy. Continue reading A Stroll Across the Multiverse

Revisiting the Past

A couple of days ago I finished Michael Crichton’s The Lost World. In a way I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed Jurassic Park, though I have to say that the explanation for Ian Malcom’s miraculous survival was far from convincing.

Anyway, setting aside that particular inconsistency, I liked the way in which the author took the time to update the paleontology and correct some of the mistakes that had made it into the first book, like the T-rex’s inability to see someone standing still… in fact I would say that over all the T-rexs’ behavior felt more coherent here than it did in the first book. Other than that, while Ian still had a tendency to be annoyingly right at times, it was a little less pronounced here than it was in Jurassic Park. Finally there was also the fact that the kids were way less obnoxious. Continue reading Revisiting the Past

A little known gem

Okay, this is one I rediscovered a few days ago. It is a very short story written by Alan Nelson in 1948 called Narapoia. Even though the formatting feels a little awkward at times, it is available online. A fair warning my browser was having a hard time identifying the encoding (if you have to set it manually, it is Western (MacRoman), and at least in Firefox you can find it under View->Character Encoding->More Encodings->West European->Western (MacRoman)). Anyway, in spite of some minor technical difficulties, the story is well-worth reading, and I really appreciate the fact that it is available at all. The link is:

Jurassic Park

Yesterday I finished Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. I have to admit that I had seen the movie, but I hadn’t really bothered with the book up until now. Over all it was an enjoyable read, though somehow it seems to fall short. Yes, it is apparent that the author did his homework in an effort to lend authenticity to the scientific side of his story, and the fact that some of his depictions of the dinosaurs now seem somewhat dated is certainly not his fault, but rather a reminder of how far paleontology has come in the past couple of decades, spurred in part by the success of the movie that was based on this particular book.

Anyway, getting back to the subject at hand, there were three things that annoyed me (okay, there were more than three, but these are the big ones): Continue reading Jurassic Park

A Case of Might-Have-Been

This one is about some books I read a few weeks ago, when I decided to take a closer look at the works of Clifford D. Simak. It was an interesting experience, especially because while today he is nowhere near as well-known as either Bradbury or Asimov, there was a time when he was considered to be in the same league with them, or almost (in fact he won the Grand Master Award in 1977, long before either of the others did). I can understand the appeal, and I can also see some of the problems with his works. In a way I would say that he is more spiritual than some of his contemporaries, and his stories tend to take place in more rural settings, but the thing that caught my attention is how irregular his books seem to be. In fact that was something I found quite frustrating at times. For instance in Time Is the Simplest Thing (1961) I loved the premise and how he finished his tale, but at times the story itself seemed to drag on, whereas in Why Call Them Back from Heaven? (1967) I loved the premise and some of the things he hinted at, but the ending was a major disappointment… that and the fact that he tried to pack a few too many subplots into that one for my liking.

So what are these books about? Continue reading A Case of Might-Have-Been

Overcoming a challenge

Yay, I am finally done with the Professor Challenger stories. I have to say that, with the exception of The Disintegration Machine, they were something of a challenge. For the most part they come across as incredibly dated, the arrogance they reflect is, more often than not, downright annoying (for instance, the whole premise of When the World Screamed is that the Earth is a sentient being and Professor Challenger’s great achievement in that one is to injure that being, thus getting it to acknowledge his existence)… and don’t get me started on The Land of Mist.

Well, that’s done now, and I’ve moved on to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and The Lost World, which so far seem to be enjoyable enough.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Needing a breather from the pile of manure that The Land of Mist seems to be at times (er… no, I’m not enjoying that one), and taking full advantage of what seemed like a perfectly timed release, yesterday I turned my attention to Terry Pratchett’s latest opus: The World of Poo. The contrast was remarkable. No, this little gem does not pretend to be a masterpiece, though Young Sam Vimes wouldn’t hesitate to label it as such, and it is certainly not for everyone… in fact a good rule of thumb would be that, if you don’t know who young Sam happens to be, you may as well steer clear from this one.

For the uninitiated, please keep in mind that there is no ‘h’ at the end of the title. In other words, if you are looking for a cute teddy bear you are likely to be disappointed. The book is exactly what it sounds like: a tale of a boy’s inquiries into everything pertaining to one of those activities that are common to both kings and beggars as he assembles a collection that he hopes to turn into a rather unique museum… I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

As you can probably guess, this is a mock-children’s book. It is also a tie-in to the Discworld series, especially Snuff. No, it is not a must-read, not even for Discworld fans (in fact at times it feels like an attempt to milk hardcore fans for everything they are worth), but it is certainly enjoyable… if you are in the right frame of mind.

A Line in the Sand

One of the things I have been dealing with in these past few days as I make my way through some very early works of what would eventually come to be known as science fiction is… whether or not they can be counted as science fiction at all. Yes, Twenty Thousand Leagues holds together remarkably well, The Scarlet Plague is a post-apocalyptic scenario and as such it falls into what has since become a well-defined sub-genre, and even The Star Rover seems to fit the bill somehow, though there really isn’t that much science in it at all. It is oddly enough with the Professor Challenger stories that this becomes more of an issue.

These works are, at best, very soft SF… or at least The Lost World is. The question is whether or not that label can be expanded to include the rest of the series. What is ironic is that what first got me thinking about this was precisely a line in The Poison Belt that deals with the way in which our perception of what ’science’ happens to be tends to change as our knowledge evolves: Continue reading A Line in the Sand

Looking forward, looking back

So I’m done with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. As I said in a previous post, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. One of the first things I realized, however, was that this book was not really written with a young adult audience in mind. It is too heavy on the science aspect of things for that, and in a really twisted kind of way that is probably what led to the popularity of Mr. Mecier’s dreadful translation: it was not just a dreadful translation, it was also a deliberate dumbing down of the book in an attempt to suit someone’s idea of who the book’s target audience was supposed to be. I guess in a way this is similar to the way in which animated features usually get –or rather used to get– an almost automatic G  or PG rating. Continue reading Looking forward, looking back

Diving into the sea of the past

For the past few days I have been busy reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (first published in 1870), and I am not done with it yet. Over all I have to say that I am enjoying it more than I thought I would, but one thing that has become clear is that, even though the S part of SF comes across as being more than a little dated, the approach itself is as hard as can be. In fact at times it is a little too hard, as thousands of words are devoted to a careful analysis of the classification of marine life. Seeing how I am no marine biologist, I can’t really vouch for the book’s accuracy (or lack thereof). As is the case with a lot of nineteenth century literature, however, there are times in which I find it hard to leave my twenty-first century sensibilities behind. The book is not politically correct, nowhere near it, and there is no reason it should be… but in this particular instance it isn’t so much the characters’ attitudes towards their fellow man as their attitudes towards the natural world that I am having a hard time trying to come to terms with. Continue reading Diving into the sea of the past

A round of ‘Spot the Moron’ (and a special thanks)

Yesterday I decided that I wanted to reread Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. I had read it eons ago, and I figured it would be interesting to read it from an adult perspective. I got as far as the Table of Contents before realizing that either Jules Verne had been a perfect moron, or the book had been translated by one.

That may seem like a shocking assertion, but what I found while going over that TOC was that Chapter XX in Part II had the following title: From Latitude 47° 24′ to Longitude 17° 28’… say what? Latitude and longitude define a single point, so there’s no going from latitude to longitude, end of story. Having read that I headed for Project Gutenberg and looked up the original. In French that chapter is called Par 47°24′ de latitude et de 17°28′ de longitude (In Latitude 47° 24′ and Longitude 17° 28’). That was a relief, I had spotted my moron and it certainly wasn’t Verne.

A bit of additional digging (i.e. a quick trip to Wikipedia) confirmed that the book had been essentially gutted by a man by the name of Lewis Page Mercier in what is in fact the standard English translation, but in addition to that I also found that there was a far more accurate version which was produced in 1966 by Walter James Miller… and that he had also been kind enough to release it into the public domain. It is available via Project Gutenberg here:

I haven’t tackled it yet, but I am looking forward to it. The thing is that if you read this one as a kid you may want to go back to it and have another look. I also want to thank Mr. Miller, and whoever else happens to be responsible for this decision, for making this work available for free.