21 March 2013

Pizza Isn't An Icecream Topping; Or, Why The Fuck Is There So Much Bullshit In Your Stupid Book

I’ve spoken a great deal about genre bending, here and there. One could be forgiven for thinking of this as perhaps my literary raison d’etre, perhaps along with contriving excuses to employ French phrases purely to flatter my ego. Yet at the same time, simply not writing in a specific genre will not achieve the goal to which I attribute efforts of genre-defiance.

This is a Not Review of Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Boroughs, which I’ve only just read, its having slipped through the coarse filter of my youthful sci-fi period. It is a book which jumps around between genres, its beginning being a traditional western, followed by science fiction so soft one could almost call it fantasy, or else simply use it as one would brie, spreading it effortlessly on a bit of lightly-toasted rye, and finally incorporating a swashbuckling romance just for good measure.

Yet, at the same time, it has a whiff of the conventional about it, a sense that it is not so much a unique work of fiction refusing classification to generate an artistic statement as a composition of action-adventure bits and pieces. There are, I almost hope, those of you who are leaping to Wikipedia check your facts in preparation for telling me that it is old enough that it seems derivative only because it was the seminal work in those genres, as is so often the case with these things.

This is, perhaps, true in places; I truly don’t know whether it was the first to write a romance between aliens and humans, the first to introduce sword combat to science fiction, or the originator of something that suspiciously resembles steampunk, and I’m not quite interested enough to go check. What I do know is that without artistic intent, the rejection of genre, like any other literary choice whatsoever, holds no more meaning than the embracing of it, the choice to write your book in 4 different languages, changing from sentence to the next, or embracing bardic verse to create performance art.

Change for its own sake is no less inartistic than change for the sake of sales or ego or whatever else stands constantly on the shores tempting authors to their generic doom with sweet, siren song.

13 March 2013

Love Thy Plot as You Love Thyself; Or, How Focus is Only a Good Thing in Real Jobs

Today we'll be covering a book called Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, which I picked up as part of the recent(ish) Humble Indie Ebook Bundle, and through it discuss the topic of plot and concept. Zoo City is an en medias res exploration of a world in which people are given superpower-granting spirit animals as evidence of their misdeeds in life which begrudgingly contains a gumshoe-style murder mystery plot. I know that description of the world makes it sound kind of silly, but it's actually a very coherent and serious one which deserves a lot of attention

Therein, however, lies the problem. The concept behind the book is fascinating, a deep world which demands to be plumbed, and the glimpses of it we find were enough to get me to finish the book (and get it a couple respectable awards, to boot), but exposition seemed to be the entire point of the book. The author was so in love with her concept that she forgot to actually write a story taking place in it, instead tying together a string of expositional points with a half-hearted story arch.

There are those who would distinguish between stories ‘of ideas’ and other kinds of stories, and the former category tends to suffer much the same issue, from another perspective. By creating a novel ‘of ideas’ one must necessarily take a larger point, usually philosophical, and weave it into a narrative. The narrative often suffers from this, as in the case of The Fountainhead or Lockpick Pornography, to pick a couple I’ve touched on in the past. A story which leans too heavily on its concept and its universe is in danger of the same thing.

The problem with complaining about this is that it’s necessarily a problem that will be experienced by the reader rather than the writer. The writer’s bliss very likely comes in the explication of their vision, their world, and the plot is a secondary sensation for them. Can we really say that the author owes us anything beyond what their own artistic vision surmises?

I would say not. If you want a book your way, do it your-fucking-self.

Nonetheless, the universe seems to be crying out for a larger story, and it’s my sincere hope that it will get it.

08 March 2013

The Mores Cover Analysis; Or, Why the Fuck Am I the Only One Doing This

The Mores cover contest winner shown at right was a shock to me in many ways. At first glance I didn't fully grasp the meaning behind it, the depth of it, but it caught my eye and made me do a double take. When I examined it further, I found what can only be called a work of art. It has a depth to it, a meaning, a sort of vital spirit that a cover just has no right to. I said in my award post that it makes me want to see the story behind it, and the fact that Mores is that story, that the idea of it was the inspiration for another work of art, is amazing to me.

If ever there were an argument to be made in favor of the cover contest model, for letting people’s minds run wild rather than contracting with a designer to do a specific model drawn from my utterly unqualified mind, his would make it. The Rmnce cover, as well, would make the point beautifully

In the end, that’s the real reason I risk (and indeed incur) the wrath of the touchier professionals; my work is meant to be art above all else, to convey meaning, and Mores in particular is near and dear to my heart. It carried itself away and in doing so it carried my message and my meaning in a way my planning and plotting and essaying could never have hoped to. To then attempt to plan a cover is contrary to the nature of the thing, and since I can’t do it on my own, letting the community do it is the next best thing.

Maybe the best thing.

The beauty of this lays in the pairing. By taking a cover which flirts with ancient and modern themes without explicitly depicting the story, one allows the story of Mores to be accented by the cover rather than imitated by it. The central theme is kept constant, the trick of Mores being in the dualistic nature of having one story set in ancient times and another in modern, but the distinct realities and execution of the two deemphasize the specifics in favor of the underlying concept. With it, the artistic expression inherent to both pieces becomes mutually complementary, a duality in itself.

All in all, perfection could demand little more. Look for Mores on March 29th!