Friday, April 11, 2008
BooksFirst - March 2008
The Making of Pride and Prejudice
The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett
Rock On by Dan Kennedy
Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett
King Of The Vagabonds by Neal Stephenson
A Salty Piece Of Land by Jimmy Buffett
I’m still trying to decide whether I like Terry Pratchett or not. Each of his Discworld novels skewers some satire worthy topic. The target of Moving Pictures is, unsurprisingly, motion pictures. A hole to another dimension allows enterprising hustlers to create a fantasy version of the silent films. Hilarity does not ensue. Most of the humor is milked from how movies would be made in a technology free world. Demons paint the pictures and candles project the pictures onto enormous sheets. I think the Flintstones had then down cold ten million years ago. In this book, movies are made on a back lot and they bear a suspicious similarity to our cinema classics. The centerpiece is a war epoch involving winds that have gone.
The only interesting character is a talking (and smart-talking) dog decidedly not in the Rin Tin Tin vein (although there is one of those as well). Another subplot is about trolls that start taking romantic movie conventions to heart. With so much material to use, the story just ignores its promise and becomes a chaotic confusing action sequence. Maybe it’s truer to the movies than I realized.
As you can tell by the Books Bought list, I haven't given up on Pratchett, but I have realized that his scattershot approach to satire can sometimes miss.
Neal Stephenson is one of my favorite authors. Snow Crash is a genre shifting classic and The Diamond Age is far too under-rated. I've blogged about seeing him at a book signing for Cryptonomicon. I even have autographed hardbacks of all three volumes of The Baroque Cycle, but I just can’t get through the first book Quicksilver. I’ve started it about three times and each times I got a little deeper into it, but never quite caught a head of steam. I had heard that if I could make it through the first third, it got much better.
Then I found that in addition to the hardback and the trade paperback, the publisher has issued each volume in a multi-part mass-market paperbacks. Since I had made it through most of the first section, I finished it off and move onto part two which is published as King Of The Vagabonds. This section introduces Jack Shaftoe, a literally half-cocked ne-er-do-well that runs across the preternaturally clever and improbably virginal Eliza. And the virgin part is mostly a technicality. As the middle section of a book would be expected to, the section ends in a cliff hanger that sets up future action.
Counting the paperback version sounds like a little of a cheat, but it lets me break this massive tome into bite-size chunks that will help me appreciate what is reputed as contemporary tour-de-force classic.
Like most people, I have a pile of books on the nightstand. Sometimes they approach archeological strata in height. For quite a while the base layer has been Jimmy Buffet’s novel A Sandy Piece of Land. A better title would have been Lucky Bastards because every character in it is the result of credulity stretching good fortune. People inherit, win and stumble into awesome careers and situations. Everyone is the best or greatest at whatever they attempt. Nobody lacks for excitement and the lack of true suspense or drama makes this book more of a fantasy than anything Terry Pratchett has written.
The ostensible plot revolves around a Montana cowboy on the lam in the Caribbean who gets dragged into a hunt for a Fresnel lens for an abandoned lighthouse. Along the way he runs across a menagerie of misfits and kooky characters that inexplicably always come to his aid. Buffett has invested a lot of energy in giving each of these people really elaborate back stories that he then regurgitates in clunky expository passages. Tons of arcane research into lighthouses, seaplanes, fishing and anything else shiny that has ever caught Jimmy's eye are just thudded into the story. No tall tale or shaggy dog story is too well-known to not be reworked into a plot point. He spends five pages rehashing the plot of The Man Who Would Be King. There is even a suspiciously familiar pop-star that travels around the world in a seaplane just to save the day.
While I love Jimmy’s island tinged music, it doesn’t stretch well to novel length.