There is a kind of filmmaking I’ve always been fond of, but which I nonetheless refer to as “endurance cinema.” Endurance cinema is not entertaining—iThere is a kind of filmmaking I’ve always been fond of, but which I nonetheless refer to as “endurance cinema.” Endurance cinema is not entertaining—it is grueling, often uncomfortable, and frequently boring: ten-hour depictions of labor camps and a failed escape (Masaki Kobayashi’s “The Human Condition”), forty-five minute zooms across a room (Michael Snow’s “Wavelength”), still photographs catching fire on a hot plate (Hollis Frampton’s “Nostalgia”), or deeply subliminal sensory freakouts (Stan Brakhage’s “Dog Star Man”) are typical. These films are not fun to watch. But if the viewer is able to get beyond the challenge of the experience, a different experience reveals itself, one that is revelatory and sublime. These films take us out of ourselves in a way standard narratives never can, and introduce the viewer to levels of investment and profundity as a direct result of their form, not in spite of it. These films are worth it.
Kim Stanley Robinson's work is often similar. (His Mars trilogy nearly killed me; no matter how much I delight in his scientific veracity, spending a hundred pages living through a general assembly after a revolution was taking the Gedankenexperiment a bit far.) He crushes us with detail. He makes us wait for the payoff. And wait. And wait. Yet in the waiting, we forget what we were there for in the first place, worn down as we are by the stream, and it is in this space that the reader may discover that there is something else entirely taking place—an emergent property, perhaps—that can only be observed in the totality. In this sense, his writing is a lot like life.
The Years of Rice and Salt pretends to be an alternative history. It sets up a clever premise (what would history from the Dark Ages forward look like without Europeans?) and the reader gets to play detective, sniffing out clues to how the world we recognize and this other world may overlap over time. So that we don’t need to form new emotional attachments with characters generation after the next, he employs a neat trick of reincarnation, which is by turns comforting and exhausting. But this is not what the book is about.
This book is about why we are the ways we are. Like the best novels of ideas, Robinson is able to locate the big questions in the minutae of daily life. What is science? Are these paradigms social constructions of cultures, or are we scraping against the surface of universal truths—so that the revelations and inherited wisdom attributed to one great man or another were really just inevitabilities, and only time was required for a technology to surface? One way or another, the world ends up with lenses, rules of thermodynamics, telephones. What is justice? As civilizations rise and fall, we watch the complexities of interest, resources, and accident collide, often with eerily familiar results. Islam gives birth to feminism; the Americas are devastated by contact with other peoples, but give birth to democracy nonetheless. What is revolution? At what point will we know we have succeeded? What is progress? As choice after choice leads to joys and traumas both new and repetitive, the reader is forced to confront their own life as a product of history.
Most importantly, this book is about mistakes. It is about seeing our patterns and challenges, our road blocks and frustrations and addictions and pain as a deep and holy inheritance, as gifts from the gods, given so that we may work these things out, life after life, with the same set of teachers and lovers and enemies. Our roles shift, but our souls remain intact, recognizable to one other over the centuries as we lift one another through our failures and push each other to carry on. For this reader, at least, this is a comfort: those members of my jotty who have been lost in this life, well—I will see them again in the next, where we will no doubt pick up where we left off. ...more
This is not a perfect book. After reading many one-star reviews of "The Wise Man's Fear," I have to chuckle because, in a sense, I agree with them: KvoThis is not a perfect book. After reading many one-star reviews of "The Wise Man's Fear," I have to chuckle because, in a sense, I agree with them: Kvothe is irritating. His perfection is slippery, inconsistent, and obnoxious. His humility feel staged. His sexual prowess is, well, doubtful. I rolled my eyes repeatedly - I admit it.
Nonetheless, I loved the second installment of the Kingkiller Chronicles. Patrick Rothfuss has found his voice in "Wise Man," or at least his sense of humor. While the first book was equal parts charm and pretentiousness, the second felt looser and more sure footed, as if Rothfuss were a gifted runner who, nervous about showing off his talents in the first lap, held his muscles too tense and his back too rigid. In this second time around, he lightens up considerably and the result is an easy pace and a more comfortable stride. I laughed out loud at least a half dozen times, and I am not one to laugh at a book.
The real strength of this series is the very likely way he established the conceit of magic. It feels all too possible - scientific, almost. If I had read these books as a 12 year old, I would have spent countless hours trying to train my own Alar in order to fashion a simple binding. I would have been convinced that it could happen, and as an adult reader, I am almost just as sure. Rothfuss conjures a world that satisfies all the fantasy tropes without treading too-worn paths, and yet makes that world seem only a hair's breadth away from our own, as if we were reading a lost history rather than an alternate universe. His description of the Adem made me sorry I'd stopped studying tai chi. His addict-dragon reminded me of the bears that used to ransack our town dump. The Cthaeh is the devil's Cheshire cat. Rothfuss pulls us between the Fae and the real with the ease of stepping through a patch of sunlight in the forest - all we need to do is follow.
The story-within-a-story format does its job; the foreshadowing is powerful, and provides a foil for the relentless annoyance of Kvothe's youth. His obnoxiousness seems purposeful and conscious. My only concern now is that he will not be able to finish what he's started: Day Three is coming, and the story feels as if it has only just begun. I wish Rothfuss and his editor the best - there are a lot of us out here waiting with fingers and lute strings crossed. But I'm not going to hold my breath....more