Saturday, July 14, 2007
Quick Takes: Vinge, Patchett, Moorcock
True Names, by Vernor Vinge: What is the first book that comes to mind when I mention the subgenre "Cyberpunk"? Neuromancer? Yeah, that's what I got. Neuromancer is certainly the most well known of the cyberpunk novels and may rightly be considered the father of cyberpunk, those novels which deal with a future vision of the internet and technology and a punk attitude towards authority and the coming corporatization of technology and information and the world in general. But, if William Gibson and Neuromancer is the father, Vernor Vinge and True Names is likely the Grand Pappy of Cyberpunk. More a novella than a novel, True Names is Vinge's early look at what could be considered a combination of the internet and virtual reality. Reading the novel we get the sense of 8 bit Nintendo graphics used to build the virtual world, even though the descriptions suggest that everything looks and feels like life. So, the 8 bit Nintendo analogy does not quite work, but when Vinge referenced old adventure games, I pictured the classic Pitfall, with the appropriate graphics (played with a paddle rather than a contemporary controller). True Names combined a fantasy feeling virtual world and a high technology real world into a solid story. Revolutionary at the time and predating much of cyberpunk, True Names still holds up as a solid piece of fiction and a well thought out and well imagined work of science fiction and "speculative" fiction.
The Best American Short Stories 2006, by Ann Patchett (editor): Ann Patchett's four published novels (The Patron Saint of Liars, The Magician's Assistant, Taft, Bel Canto) are exceptional works of contemporary fiction. They are graceful, beautiful novels which draw the reader in and tell stories we do not wish to put down. Her non fiction book Truth and Beauty is a compelling exploration of her friendship with author Lucy Grealy. So, when I saw that Patchett was the editor for the 2006 edition of The Best American Short Stories I hoped for some great selections. Then I remembered that while the guest editor is responsible for selecting the twenty stories published in the anthology, the series editor is the one who picks out the several hundred stories to send to the guest editor. So, it is difficult to say exactly whose fault it is that I found very few stories which held my interest and not one story I feel the desire to hold up as the outstanding story of the collection. Next year (or, this year I suppose since the collection comes out in the fall) we get two things that should be very interesting. First, Stephen King will be the Guest Editor, and while I don’t expect King to fill the collection with horror, I do hope and expect that his selections may be a bit quirkier than we are used to seeing in B.A.S.S. The second Interesting Thing is there is a new Series Editor. Excellent! Nothing against the previous series editor because she served her role well and selected the stories she thought were the best to send to the guest editor, but I do not believe her tastes matched with mine very well. Hopefully the new Series Editor will give a fresh breath to the series and hopefully the combination of the new editor and Stephen King as the guest editor will deliver a truly fine anthology. Hmm. I spent very little time in this paragraph actually writing about the 2006 edition. I guess I didn't really care. Oh! There is one fun thing Ann Patchett did (may her next novel be swiftly published), the stories were arranged in reverse alphabetical order by author. So, Ann Beattie had the last story in the collection. And...I've run out of interest in this topic.
Corum: The Coming of Chaos, by Michael Moorcock: This Corum volume is the eighth entry in the Eternal Champion series and it contains the novels: Knight of Swords, Queen of Swords, King of Swords. It is nearly unreadable. I believe many of the place names are based around the Cornish or Welsh language, and that's fine, but the story is so basic and underplotted that Knight of Swords reads something like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, only not as much fun to read. So much in the first seventy five pages seemed extraneous that I have to believe Moorcock needed to fill space with ink and even though he is a talented author and even though some of the other Eternal Champion novels are a pleasure to read, Knight of Swords was brutal. Bad enough that even in 300 or so total pages for THREE Corum novels in this omnibus, I could not finish one. I've got better things to read.