Goblet of Fire's sprawling messiness is fascinating to me. It seems to mark the moment when J.K. Rowling gained full power over her creation. She wasn...moreGoblet of Fire's sprawling messiness is fascinating to me. It seems to mark the moment when J.K. Rowling gained full power over her creation. She wasn't a struggling, driven, single mom anymore -- she was J.K. ROWLING! She was a literary superstar, and suddenly she could do anything she wanted without hindrance.
The result is a giant mess. She's got a Quidditch World Cup happening; she's got the crazy Triwizard Tournament, and all its machinations; she's got Harry's hormones starting to rage; she's got a jumble of adult politics and the old and new wars against Voldemort competing with Harry for time; she's got the endless Rita Skeeter vs. Hermione subplot; then she's got the Hermione - Dobby - Winky - SPEW debate; she's got the first appearance of the Pensieve, and its onslaught of explication; she's got not-Mad Eye Moody to introduce, the first serious appearance of Voldemort, another ghostly visitation, Padfoot hanging around in caves, Fred & George scheming their brains out, and Dumbledore being his usual forthcoming self; she's got Tournament challenges and school to deliver; she's got humiliating dances for us to attend; she's got the death of Cedric Diggory; and she's got all her usual suspects -- Snape, McGonagall, Neville, Hagrid, the Malfoys, etc., etc.. It's a lot of ground to cover. I think it is too much, and I am sure that if she hadn't been an institution, she'd have been forced to cut and trim.
But I am damn glad she wasn't forced to cut and trim. Sure Goblet of Fire could have been tighter. Sure it could have been a slicker story, more compelling, faster in the telling. But fuck all that. Life is messy. Shit is always going on around you. Just look around tomorrow and you'll see it happening. And all of those diversions, all of that messiness, is a reflection of the way life is.
More importantly, though, I just love the fact that an author -- ANY AUTHOR -- reached that stage with her writing, reached the point where it was so beloved she could tell the story her way without any interference. Most authors only get to do that if they stay in the ghettoes of self-publishing, but Rowling moved into the gated suburbs and painted her house all the colours of the rainbow, and she was so fucking rich and powerful that the community council just let her do her thing. That is authorial victory, and that makes Goblet of Fire a personal fave.
Besides, it's kinda fun despite its flaws. And it is the first time I really fell for Hermione. She's one of the great supporting characters in all of literature. Seriously. She's up there with Dr. Watson (but better).(less)
I always seem to forget how good Jurassic Park is. I blast through it once every few years, throw it on my shelf and the distance slowly makes me deri...moreI always seem to forget how good Jurassic Park is. I blast through it once every few years, throw it on my shelf and the distance slowly makes me derisive, and then something forces me to pick it up again when my brain needs a little peanut butter and jelly dipped in hot chocolate, and I am forced to admit that Jurassic Park is a damn fine novel.
Sure it's packed with Michael Crichton's usual band of screenplay-adaptation-friendly archetypes, sure it derives much of its plot and thought from Arthur Conan Doyle, HG Wells and Mary Shelley, sure it's pulpy and quick to read, but those things aren't necessarily bad, and Crichton does enough to elevate or alter these elements to make Jurassic Park a fine piece of popular Sci-Fi in its own right.
Yes, the characters are there to serve the plot. Each has an important skill or skill-set -- Muldoon is the "Great White Hunter," Malcolm is the chaos theoretician, Grant and Saddler are the paleontologists, Tim and Lex are the kids in peril, etc., etc. -- and who they are and the how their stories unfold are easily altered or even cut entirely in the shift from book to screen because they are less important than their skills, yet Crichton still manages to make them likable enough that we care about what happens to them. None of the characters are dynamic or round, but their static flatness makes them no less interesting than a character like Ian Fleming's James Bond. They may not be as memorable as Bond (although Ian Malcolm has some pretty impressive popularity for a supporting character), but they don't really have to be. We can forget them after the book is over, then enjoy them anew when we go back to the book later. They aren't Hamlet, but they work.
And yes Crichton borrows liberally, but he borrows from the stars. He uses Shelley's classic creation-gone-mad trope, and he blatantly thieves from Doyle's Lost World and Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, but he does it with style. Granted it's a pulpy style, but that pulpiness is an asset. It takes those pieces he's combined and lets the reader catch mere glimpses of them outside the roller coaster car as he takes us into drops and curves and spins and loop-de-loops. The speed and pace nearly makes us forget from whom he's borrowing. And that is by design. Crichton's pulpiness is pacing, conscious pacing, and as literary action-oriented plotters go, Crichton is a master of speedy obfuscation.
Add to all that some memorable tirades about science and reason and the environment, some kick ass Velociraptors and T-rexes, an excellent scene with toxic eggs, and some rather insightful criticism of "great men," and Jurassic Park is a book that I predict will stand the test of time. We may not see its future today, but fifty to a hundred years from now it will be taught in schools and remembered, while other, more literary books will be forgotten.
later -- It just struck me that if I forget the quality of this book between readings, and I do, then my prophecy concerning Jurassic Park's staying power is probably flawed. I think I may be more Nostradumbass than Nostradamus. (less)
Lieutenant Hornblower may be the name of the book, and he's certainly what it's about, but there's a fine little twist that begins on the first page a...moreLieutenant Hornblower may be the name of the book, and he's certainly what it's about, but there's a fine little twist that begins on the first page and is sustained throughout: Lieutenant Hornblower is not from his point of view.
Instead of experiencing HMS Renown's time in the Caribbean through Lieutenant Hornblower's eyes, we see the Renown's mission to Santo Domingo from the perspective of one of Horatio's superior officers, Lieutenant William Bush.
Bush -- a solid, steady, unimaginative Lieutenant -- meets Hornblower in the earliest stages of the novel, and everything we know about the title character comes through the filter of Bush. At first Bush finds Hornblower fascinating, then he feels a twinge of jealousy, then some fear when he wonders if Hornblower is responsible for maiming Captain Sawyer (and putting him permanently out of commission), then wonder at Hornblower's self-control, then some admiration, before a return of anger, and finally a deep respect and devoted friendship for the junior officer who is destined to become his superior.
It's an interesting move for an author of a series to make, but [C.S. Forester:]'s use of Bush in Lieutenant Hornblower is effective in a couple of pragmatic ways. First, Forester controls exactly what he wants us to know about Hornblower; second, this withheld knowledge leaves us always wondering, along with Bush, whether Hornblower really did have anything to do with the injuring of Captain Sawyer, and maybe even his murder during the retaking of Renown from a pack of captured privateers; third, it gives us the very important experience of seeing how the men who follow Hornblower, subordinates and superiors alike, come to lay their lives on the line for such a distant, arrogant, mysterious and precocious young man.
Lieutenant Hornblower isn't without its flaws, though. It's nautical bits seem to be a bit of annoyance to the author, who uses them primarily as a way to move the reader from one nasty battle or action set piece to the next. This peculiarity makes it feel more like something out of the Sharpe series, Bernard Cornwell's anti-heroic rifleman, than Patrick O'Brian's superior Aubrey/Maturin series. Which isn't to say that Cornwell and Forester are bad -- far from it -- but I'd much rather eat a perfectly cooked steak than overcooked hamburgers.
Then again, when steak isn't available burger is a satisfying substitute. And I've know doubt I will be eating burgers again very soon.(less)
You know this must have been a good book because it wasn't all that long ago that I read it, maybe two years, and I can't even begin to remember the p...moreYou know this must have been a good book because it wasn't all that long ago that I read it, maybe two years, and I can't even begin to remember the plot.
Still, I marked it as okay, so it must not have completely sucked. I'm guessing it was a typical Indiana Jones novel -- pulpy, weak, and just a little too much like Indy from Last Crusade (thus missing the darkness that made the Raiders and Temple of Doom Indy great).(less)
To begin with, Rob MacGregor betrays the character of Indiana Jones. His Indiana is not just healthily skeptical, he’s idiotic. Imagine if Dana Scully had continued as a total unbeliever past the first season of X-Files. Well that is Indiana Jones in the Interior World. No matter how much evidence he is presented with, not matter how many mythical creatures he bumps into, no matter how much time and space he traverses, Indy believes in nothing until the last possible second. And when he does believe the new evidence is simply not strong enough for his total transformation.
But the book doesn’t just fail as an Indiana Jones novel, it fails as a work of fiction. It is a morass of cliché and silliness. It is an author trying to be clever and failing. It is an author wasting our time and his.
I had to finish so that I could write this review with a clear conscience, but I wish now that I had never read Indiana Jones and the Interior World. Do yourself a favour and stay away -- far, far away.(less)
It is an exemplar of what I call cinematic writing: novel length prose that the author ultimately intends for the screen.
The characters are skill-based and maleable (sometimes even interchangeable), the chase -- either figurative or literal -- is all important, and the skeletal structure of the plot is all about the goal. As long as the goal remains the same, the pieces that get the writer/filmmaker there can alter to suit mood, economics, aesthetics or any other pragmatic concern without harming the spirit of the tale.
I used The Great Train Robbery in my thesis because it was the one book that Michael Crichton directed himself. He wrote the novel, wrote the screenplay, cast the main characters, and made all the alterations that moved his story from one medium to another. The novels that followed The Great Train Robbery continued to embrace the cinema in their conception, but The Great Train Robbery was the finest expression of Crichton's love for the screen because even he, the author, had to make changes to take his novel to the screen.
For anyone who loves cinema and novels, for anyone who loves screenwriting, for anyone who loves screen adaptation, both manifestations of The Great Train Robbery are essential texts. And how can you beat the teaming of Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland And how can you beat the teaming of Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland? You can't (not even with Harrison Ford or Elliot Gould).
Track down the movie, re-read the book, and appreciate them both for what Crichton was trying to do. (less)
Joe Simpson and Simon Yates made the first ascent on the west face of Siula Grande in 1985 but ran into some serious trouble coming back down. A storm kicked up, and Simpson fell on the ice, driving his tibia through his knee. His leg was a serious mess, and the pair tried to descend as fast as they could with the bad weather getting worse (more on that later).
They made their descent with Yates helping Simpson the best he could until Simpson slipped over a cliff and found himself dangling in mid-air over a crevasse. Yates held onto Simpson from a crumbling belay seat he'd dug out of the snow and ice, feeling all of Simpson's weight dangling prone at the end of the rope. With his seat about to disintegrate, no visual contact with Simpson or the cliff, the weather getting worse, and the likelihood of both of them going over the cliff increasing with every second that he tried to hold on, Yates made the only decision he could -- he cut the rope.
Enter the debate. Some say Yates should have held on to Simpson no matter what happened, even if it meant his own death, and some say (as I do) that he'd already done everything he could and cutting the rope was his only remaining option.
I seriously don't understand why Yates' act is up for debate, though. Not only did his decision turn out to be the right one, a decision that saved both their lives, but how many of those who say Yates should have hung on, and question his ethics for not doing so, would have actually kept their knives in their pockets? Not many, I'd wager.
This debate clouds the real issue in Touching the Void, however, which is that Simpson and Yates had no business being up on the mountain that day at all.
Local guides had warned them about the weather atop Siula Grande, and their own senses told them, before they even started the ascent, that they were racing against a possible mountaintop blizzard. Their hubris pushed them on, though, and they put themselves in a situation that never should have been. Had they waited for the storm to pass, the next three days of climbing would have been clear and easy, but they took an unnecessary risk, a foolish risk, and nearly paid the ultimate price.
My wife is a mountain guide who has walked in the shadow of Siula Grande many times, leading treks through the Peruvian Andes, and an old friend of mine went to Canada's Yamnuska Mountaineering school to become a guide (I am a dilettante when it comes to paddling and mountaineering, and I've done nothing like Erika and Curtis have, but I do love the extreme sports and have a healthy respect for the conventions that go along with them), and their response to Touching the Void is that the pair of them -- Yates and Simpson -- should have died for their stupidity.
Erika, Curtis and many of their fellows were or remain angry at Yates and Simpson for taking such a silly risk. Every ascent is dangerous enough without taking on dangers that are within one's ability to avoid. Their sport has enough difficulty being accepted without adding to the stigma of danger, and taking stupid risks gives mountaineering a bad name.
The general perception is that mountaineering is a sport whose athletes pursue danger for the sake of danger. Yates' and Simpson's insane ascent up Siula Grande and their antics trying to recover from their error only perpetuate that perception.
The book itself is actually quite compelling, despite my frustration with their decision to make the ascent. Moreover, Simpson's loyalty to Yates, even though Yates did cut him loose one dark and stormy night, is pretty impressive.
I've heard many people who love this book say that it is a triumph of the human spirit; instead, I'd call it a triumph over human stupidity.
Regardless, Touching the Void is a hell of an interesting read, and I can guarantee you won't get bogged down in any dull moments. There simply aren't any. (less)