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To the lighthouse

3 Dec

I am not entirely sure why I enjoyed this book.

If you just look at the facts, nothing spectacular happens – in terms of action or long burried secrets at least. The characters are  normal (even if intellectual) people, living normal British lives.

So …? What’s the catch.

The trick Virginia Woolf managed to pull on me (and all those who have enjoyed this book) is called ‘fascination with the human mind.’

The book is truly about what lies beneath. We, as humans, say so little of what truly goes on in our minds and Woolf captures all the inner noise so well, that I felt compelled to read this book to the end. How she does it is beyond my skill to fully understand and explain, but you become a spectator to conflicts, frictions and loves of monumental (dis)proportion.

The entire book actually happens over the course of an afternoon and its evening, followed by an evening and morning ten years later. While little out of the ordinary happens outwardly, inside, entire worlds and philosophies clash. The book is about what the  characters feel, about their inner conflicts, about their greatness and their pettiness facing each other as images in a crooked mirror.

What truly impressed me about the book was the fascinating symbiosis between two antithetical entities: Man – renowned, yet insecure, intelligent and deep thinking, with incredible insights, but at the same time a whimpering child always seeking attention and validation, to the point of begging for it; Woman – discreet, beautiful, mother of eight, of little fame or academic intelligence, yet strong, caring, with a heart and an eye for directing destinies and doing what must be done, in spite of reproach.

There is so much more to be said about this short book, but there is even more thinking to be done. I will let it sink in, with all its beautiful dioramas on the human mind and the unseen ties between people, and invite you to read it before I end.

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Hyper

1 May

Dan Simmons’s Hyperion is by far one of the best sci-fi novels that I’ve ever read, up there together with Dune and – sorry to say this, Ender fans – better than the two Ender novels I’ve read so far.

Now, before I launch into why this novel is so good, I’ll make a caveat on taste and quality. ‘They’ say that there is no accounting for taste, but I believe there is as far as craftsmanship goes. There is a difference behind enjoying a novel and taking a look at the way it was constructed to tell a story that is realistic (if necessary), credible (always necessary), mind-bending (by posing some interesting/important questions) and immersive (because fun must be factored in, too).

Now, back to Hyperion.

The first surprise I’ve had was to discover that it is actually a frame story, where each of 7 characters embarking on a mad pilgrimage tell their stories, hoping that it will shed some light on why they were chosen to meet the greatest horror discovered so far in the known Universe.

The second surprise was the first story. The third surprise was the second story. The fourth surprise was the third story … and so on.

Each of the stories is so different, yet so extraordinary and unexpected that each could have easily been a novel by themselves (or a movie – and I’m not the first one to say this). All six of them (yes, six, not seven, but I’ll let you read the book to learn why) are, of course, connected to the mysterious figure of the Shrike, the alien (in the worst possible sense of the word) entity that some revere as a god, while others seek to destroy as if eliminating a pest (well, a pretty horrible one).

However, the strongest point of the six stories is not just how different they are in content. It’s the style, too, their voice, their personality changes tremendously based on the characters. The posse that Simmons has created provides one of the most heterogeneous assemblies of high-contrast, well defined and individualized characters. Creating such a group is a challenge from the outset, but Simmons turns the fact that they are always together, with a constant danger of ‘not being who they should’, into an asset for the book, as contrast between them furthers their individuality.

There is a lot to say about meaning and deeper ideas in the book, but … where should I start? From politics and hunger for power to humble personal discovery, from the relativity of philosophy, literature and history to God, from science to issues of ecology and eco-terrorism, the novel touches all of them raising interesting questions for those who are looking for more than just a good action-packed story.

I’ll close here, with a warning. Make sure you have The Fall of Hyperion (second novel of the Hyperion Cantos) handy by the time you finish this. Trust me if you don’t enjoy going cold turkey.

You already have it in you, dear reader

17 Mar

If you’re gonna read a writing book, it might as well be Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

This is not a field guide for entering the writers’ complex world, or an encyclopedia of smart-ass techniques. If there’s a catchphrase that would define it best, my pick would be “you already have it in you, dear reader.”

Let me explain why.

The book is structured in two parts. The first half is pretty much an autobiography, just what the title promises. It’s a story of King’s life and how his writing evolved, based on his experiences. A great way to show that you are what you write and the other way around.

While seeing how King grew from a teenager writing crappy (sort of…) stories to a record-breaking author is inspiring, what really struck me was the second half of the book, concerning technique.

‘But wait, you said this wasn’t a book about technique!’ I hear the crowds roar.

It isn’t. The advice King gives is so basic, so fundamental and simple, I would hardly call it ‘technique’. What makes it so hard-hitting is precisely the simplicity. Writing isn’t supposed to be hard, it is just a matter of putting all your heart and skill into learning how to do it properly. Yes, it may take a long time, but work pays off.

And that’s where the “you already have it in you, dear reader” kicks in: if you’re willing to put in the work, you can do it.

I’ve read this book about 2.5 years ago, so I’ll stop here since I don’t feel I can give it enough credit from memory. This post intends to do just one simple thing – convince you to read it. You should, if only for the most basic writing advice I’ve ever encountered: if you’re a writer (a professional writer that is) you should write 4 hours a day and read 4 hours more.

You see, it’s real work.

Futuristic Tales of Here and Now

7 Mar

Cory Doctorow, one of the most popular cyberpunk writers on this planet (I don’t have much information on other planets or dimensions), is offering his readers a treat.

The comic book version of his short-story collection Futuristic Tales of Here and Now is available for free. A place where you can find them is here.

For the best reading experience I recommend CDisplay, available right here: http://www.cdisplayex.com/

Enjoy!

Words

5 Mar

While trying to second guess what familiar things gone wrong lie at the origin of curiosities populating Gene Wolfe’s bleak vision of the future makes the experience more intriguing, it is words that struck me the most in Shadow of the Torturer.

This is a good fun book, but it wouldn’t have claimed those awards and nominations without some good writing to back up the story and the charm of it comes first of all from words. Peltast, chrism, monomachy, fricatrice, exultant, autarch, fiacre, sabretache, destrier, chiliarch, portreeve, abacination, cangue, bartizan, flageolet, lambrequin, mensal, pavonine – should I go on?

What strikes me the most is that all of these and many other like them that Wolfe generously uses in the book are real words, not inventions of the author, as it is often the case in SF&F. Many of them have their original meaning preserved, but by using them instead of a more regular (shall we say ‘banal’ version), the author builds a feeling of eeriness in the book which I cannot describe with full justice – you really ought to read it to get it yourself.

The eerines is pushed even further by the somewhat illogic nature of the characters, I often felt that they acted bizzarely, driven by motivations which are layed out in the open, fully explained and logical by their terms and those of the world they live in to some extent, but a bit alien for the reader.

These lead to a rich reading experience and I have enjoyed Shadow of the Torturer not just as a masterpiece of the genre, but as a good lesson in taking a fetish for words to a new level of art

A matter of creed

7 Feb
John Brunner and a fascinating interview. I’ve only included the second part, mostly because of what he says at 06:20 about imagination, diversity and the richness of sources. 

What do you do and read to groom an open mind and the absurdness of the places where it takes you?
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