|Comments on Friday 16 January 2004:|
|I have a book. It's called The Twist, and written by one Richard Calder. The front cover quotes William Gibson as saying of it "dark, edgy and inflicted with just the right degree of lyricism". If you've ever read Gibson you'll know that "just the right degree of lyricism", in his mind, is "gibbering on like a person with tourette's syndrome who believes that every word in the dictionary is a swearword, as well as some that aren't in the dictionary". You may think that's a horrible clumsy simile, but that's because you haven't read this book. In comparison, my simile is a masterpiece of graceful writing.|
"Further in, the architecture becomes as imposing as any commemorating notables interred in some Brobdingnagian Père Lachaise."How does one come to compose a sentence like that? Did he originally write "further in, the architecture becomes imposing", and then someone asked him "how imposing did it become?" and he replied "hm, I don't know, about as imposing as any architecture that commemorates notables in some Brobdingnagian Père Lachaise, I suppose", and the other person said "oh, that imposing. Now I get it. You should put that in the book, it's much more illuminating."
Surely the point of drawing a simile is to give the reader a bit of additional insight, or possibly just instill a little mood. Generally, that mood shouldn't be rage at the author. And that's just my objection to the matter of the sentence. There's also the problem with its form. A first reading will tend to make 'commemorating notables' a noun-phrase, forcing the reader to double-take to get the proper meaning of the sentence - what meaning there is to be had, anyway.
Now you might think "tsk, you've just picked out the worst sentence from the book, haven't you?" Well, I might have, it's a pretty nasty sentence, but even if it is worst, it isn't worst by far. To pick another example entirely at random:
"Here, Boot Hill transforms itself into a place of dead giants, interred for long centuries in a massive Golgotha, a petrified jungle of cistic prominences, a towering boneyard."Wow, I want a Boot Hill - that's much cooler than Optimus Prime. Seriously though, someone's been coughing up adjectives all over the inside of this book, and it isn't pretty.
"And these bones have been carbonised, fused into struts, beams, architraves, girders, lintels; all is shrouded in black, a pall that honours the town's contemporary population, the unknown souls who hide behind shuttered windows and barred doors, and those who wander restless, in the black, refracted light of the funereal day."Oh alas.
But who am I to call such writing rubbish? Science Fiction Age says it's "stunning" (which, admittedly, might not have been a compliment), The New York Review Of Science Fiction says it's "as rich, dense and intricate as any recent SF" (which, admittedly, also might not have been a compliment), and Washington Post Book World apparently claims it's "brilliant". I suppose some people like this sort of thing - it certainly conforms to the "show, don't tell" philosophy of writing that I hate. After 66 pages, about two pages of story have been told. [04:00]
|"dark, edgy". Urrgggh.|
|"Coughing up adjectives," eh? It sounds as if the book were written when the author had fallen ill with a new mutation of Tuberculosis.|
Is it infectious?
|He seems to like commas quite a bit. Also the word 'interred.' I never thought that was a particularly spectacular word, but evidently Mr. Calder did.|
Now, I do like adjectives, but not those that are used in your selection from the book. All they do is restate the obvious - BOOT HILL IS BIG. That entire sentence only reiterates that Boot Hill is a pretty sizeable place.
Now, maybe a description of how it felt, looked, et cetera would have been better - perhaps he expected the reader to suddenly shout "Holy Napkin Ring! That's a big place!"
I, on the other hand, am now sufficiently impressed with its size. But no, evidently Calder is not forthcoming with too many more descriptive phrases - perhaps he expects the reader to form his or her own opinion, as many writers claim to out of sheer laziness. Truthfully, does anyone really want to think up the entire landscape for whatever novel they happen to be reading? Faces, clothing, some basic architecture, okay - but entire worlds, with nothing to go on except that it's 'a towering boneyard'? I'd like a bit more, please.
On a totally different note, how was the story itself? I've read a few books - The Da Vinci Code comes to mind - that have had some very interesting subject matter but were unfortunately packaged in some exceptionally sloppy writing. Could that be the case?
|Nah, the story is also horrible. The ending is the worst piece of writing I've encountered in a long time. "And none of this would have happened if it hadn't been for The Twist. But what about the twist, the bit at the end of my story where there's something interesting - the twist at the end of this book, if you will? Well there isn't one actually. Ha ha."|
Not quite verbatim, but that's the gist of what it says.
Not a horrible concept, but the plot and the telling are both very horrible indeed. On the up-side, the other book that I was reading before it, which is also uncomfortable florid prose, suddenly feels like a normal book after Mr Calder's incessant nonsense gibbering.
|How many books have you non-poetic literal-minded opinionated assholes written? Any best sellers? No, I thought not.|
|Which non-poetic literal-minded people are you talking to? The thing is we *are* poetic, which is why we hate terrible writing. There's nothing un-literal about The Twist, "Brobdingnagian" is a word that literally means big, so he is literally saying "as big as a big thing" which is a very literal description. We are not misinterpreting some sort of poetic license, we're not failing to understand a hidden message, we are just thinking his writing style is horrible. There is nothing non-poetic or literal-minded about this opinion.|
William Blake wrote poetry, and I enjoy the poetry of William Blake, which is not very literal, so your accusation doesn't hold water.
Finally, I have written one book, it sold alright and paid me, per time spent writing and producing it, more than minimum wage. Not a best-seller, but nor is The Twist, unless the one million six hundred thousandth best seller (according to Amazon) counts as a best seller.