Thursday, April 08, 2010

This, that, the other thing

I was all excited about returning to the arms of Thomas Mann after having set aside The Magic Mountain back in January, and I had a wonderful few days with him, and I made it past the midway point. But now I'm distracted again.

Boy! was I glad to be working from home today as Life A User's Manual, by Georges Perec, was delivered to my door. I hadn't intended to commit to any kind of readalong so soon (after last year's glut — Infinite Jest and 2666), but finally I couldn't resist the prospect of sharing in this book with a number of fine people (Claire, Emily, Frances, Richard, and Sarah), and in particular these impressions made an impression on me. I'm a little daunted, though, now that I see how big it is.

Also arrived in today's post: Thomas Mann's The Holy Sinner, which I'd never heard of before its inclusion on the WSJ's list of novels of ideas. I love medieval incestuous monks! So much to look forward to!

I recently zipped through Robert J Sawyer's Wake, the second in his WWW series. I really can't stand this guy. I love his books though (and love to hate parts of them too). But then there are bits of the Author that seep into the text — the geek who tries too hard to impress girls, to prove he's an enlightened, sensitive male; the guy who blows his own horn just a little too loudly or in the wrong places. One of his characters was noted to have been watching Flashforward the other night fer chrissake (Robert J Sawyer wrote the novel (which I thoroughly enjoyed) on which the TV show is based, and is a consultant to the program). And there's something about him writing about a 16-year-old girl's sexual awakening which is downright creepy. I can't put my finger on it.

Yet, for all their flaws, I can't put down his books (usually — I never made it through Hominids, let alone the rest of the trilogy). I mean, sure I insult them, but I gobble them up. The man has great ideas. But the writing... Oh, it could just be so much better. Dialogue is stilted, though Sawyer's made tremendous improvement over the last decade. There are some weird, misplaced (in my view) cultural references: Do kids today even listen to Robert Palmer? Sure it's in the context of the 16-year-old's dad, but it seems awfully indulgent to give this minor character a whole parody. As for the intended audience, while this ref would work for geeky oldtimers, for most of the rest of the book they would probably feel very much talked down to. It's preachy about things barely relevant (mmm, no, not at all relevant) to the story (for example, gay marriage). And some relatively simple concepts (whether in AI, game theory, or ethics) felt over-explained.

I have to say: it's one of the nicest ARCs I've ever received (won in a contest) — the glossy cover, the binding, the paper quality. And, I can't wait to read the next book in the series. Be advised, they don't really work as standalone novels. I highly recommend this series as "starter sci-fi" for teenagers. Grown-ups would do better with The Terminal Experiment — the first Sawyer I ever read, as a direct result of hearing him (he can't have been that annoying) in interview with Peter Gzowski, and one of my favourites. If you really want to know more about Sawyer, you can check the entry in Wikipedia, which I'm sure he's edited extensively.

Phew. I feel better now.

I'm off to read Perec, tout de suite. It's a self-help book, right?
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