Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Quick Takes: Nancy Crampton, Brandon Sanderson, Cory Doctorow
Writers, by Nancy Crampton: This is a collection of photographs taken by Nancy Crampton over the years. As can be presumed from the title the subject of the pictures is writers. Crampton profiles writers such as Philip Roth, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Spuds Turkel, Joyce Carol Oates, Anne Sexton, Norman Mailer, Jhumpa Lahiri, Truman Capote, and many, many others. On the page opposite of the photograph is a paragraph from the writer about writing. The text is from various articles or interviews over the past thirty years. In the sense that the collection gives us little glimpses into the lives of all of these writers it is fine, but I have a difficult time getting excited about a book of photography. The fact that I had heard of less than half of the writers, and read fewer than that, might play into my opinion, but even a book of beautiful and haunting images still does not linger like a good novel or story does for me. Generally.
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, by Brandon Sanderson: Sanderson enters the world of YA fiction with Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. I have enjoyed Sanderson’s adult novels, so why not give this a shot? The novel is narrated by a man (young man? Old? Doesn’t say, but I’m going with young) looking back on his life and how he became involved in the struggle between the Hushlanders (America) and The Free Kingdoms and the conspiracy of Librarians everywhere to keep secret the knowledge of the Free Kingdoms. Apparently there are three additional continents that do not show up on any map or survey because the Librarians are keeping that existence secret. To the Free Kingdoms, we are backwards, low tech people even though they use swords rather than “low tech” guns. Anyway, Alcatraz (our narrator and hero) tells of how he, a boy raised as a Hushlander...or as an American, became this great hero and well known celebrity in the Free Kingdoms...though repeatedly tells us that he isn’t very nice or trustworthy. I think Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians might be a lot of fun for a 10 to 14 year old to read. It features a snarky narrator, it pokes fun at our world and what we know, has silly action, takes itself both seriously and not seriously at the same time, and a moderately clever concept. It probably would work for a pre-teen, but as an adult this is not a YA work that can reach both an adult audience and a YA audience...and that’s fine. I’m not the target audience. There were little jabs that I appreciated, particularly near the end of the book where Sanderson starts to pull a Jo Rowling to send Alcatraz back to the Hushlanders before letting fly a light backhand about how nonsensical it would be to send a boy to exactly where the bad guys know to look, in a land where he has to pretend to be someone he is not, where he has no friends, and to know that there is a world of magic out there he must be in a world of boredom for him...Sanderson teases it, and then pulls back...because as an author and reader Sanderson is aware of the conventions and what Rowling did, and he wants us to know that he is aware and that his readers are likewise aware. The book is entertaining and short enough, I suppose, but I would much rather read the next Mistborn, Warbreaker, or whatever adult Fantasy novel Sanderson writes than the new Alcatraz book. I’ll give it a respectful pass, but if I had a ten year old I would definitely give him the book.
Overclocked, by Cory Doctorow: Even though all of the stories are available online, Overclocked works very well as its own collection of acclaimed and anthologized stories. Overclocked is the second collection of Cory Doctorow’s short fiction, and they are Doctorow’s look at possible futures and some experiments with genre. He has his Asimov robot tale “I, Robot” and a follow up, of sorts, “I, Row Boat”, a virtual reality story “Anda’s Game” (which similar to the Asimov referenced titles is a play on Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game), a post apocalyptic “When Sysadmins Ruled the World” which features the geeky system administrators trying to keep the computers running and preserve civilization during some unknown cataclysm. “Printcrime” and “After the Siege” were less successful for me. “Printcrime” did not work because of the brevity of the story, and “After the Siege” just didn’t. Overall, this is a solid collection of frequently anthologized stories (“Anda’s Game” was in Best American Short Stories, “Sysadmins” has been well collected, as have “I, Robot” and “I, Row-Boat”, possibly in some of Gardner Dozois Best Science Fiction anthologies). Doctorow is well worth reading. There is some good stuff in this collection.