Thursday, 24 February 2011

Maid Marian and a Song for Nero

I just finished reading Thomas Holt’s A Song for Nero. I picked it up because it’s a historical fiction told in a modern style with a few deliberate anachronisms and a contemporary flavour. My own novel I’m working on is a light-hearted anachronistic historical fiction. I’m trying hard to find published novels following that sort of principle.

Song for Nero was easy to read with a good concept. The light-hearted style made it a much more enjoyable read from other historical fiction. The characters were strong and well described. The whole ambience of the story put me into that time in history without alienating me.

The book was excessively long considering nothing much actually happens. It was over the top to the extent that though I guess a lot of stuff did happen, it seemed to be negated by the OTT barrage of stuff that I couldn’t relate to. All the mishaps that occur bled into one another creating a spiral of repetition. Despite such a formulaic repetition, the characters never learn from their previous experiences. Though Galen does seem to develop towards the end, I felt character development was thin on the ground. I had no reason to root for the characters because it was never made clear what the characters actually wanted, other than to be in a different situation.

Having said all that, I did enjoy reading it. I just felt it came so close to being an amazing perfect book, but it never quite connected, never quite filled its potential.

Has anyone out there read a good historical fiction in a similar vein to A Song for Nero? I’m talking modern language, no excessive description into intricate historical fact, a lot of deliberate anachronism, tongue in cheek and chilled out? I’m talking Maid Marian and Her Merry Men but in adult novel form. If anyone can suggest something similar (that isn’t the book I am writing) then point me that way.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Human After All

Something to listen to while reading:

I have just read The Drowned World by J G Ballard. What particularly struck me about the book was within the postscript. Ballard comments on the fragility of society/ status quo. Ballard discusses how living through a war allowed him to see society as a construction. This idea is central to The Drowned World. Kerans refers to the structured society that Colonal Riggs represents as being unreal, a construction. Kerans, Beatrice and Bodkin are sharing the same dream, their consciousness collectively aligning with an ancient archetype, regressing mentally as their new world regresses to Triassic conditions.

The point I would most like to hold on to is that society is a construction, easily broken. I heard somewhere that civilised society is only three meals away from anarchy. Nothing in our day to day lives is actually real and it is all subject to extreme change. Resilience is the ability to roll with changes, embrace them and shift to the pattern of change.

The book I am currently reading is What I Was by Meg Rosoff. Rosoff is easier to read than Ballard, being a children’s writer. Her stories are simple and comfortable where Ballard’s are complex and sophisticated. There is something that is linking these two stories together and entwining myself within the folds. Finn is a boy who lives in a shack on a tidal island. He is wild, (partially) disconnected from society’s rules and constructed existence. Finn’s life is based in the facts and reality of living, of catching enough crabs to eat and sell, of collecting wood for his fire, on the act of being alive.

In Rosoff’s first book, How I Live Now, we meet four siblings with a similar unreality (disconnection from society’s rules).

I can relate to Finn and Edmond and Issac et al because I too wish to live in such a manner. I don’t mean total disconnection, because that would be rejecting things as they are now. I mean a partial disconnection, a state in which I exist as part of society but not expressly reliant on it.

I strive for this simple existence that acknowledges the fragile unreality of society. I want to be resilient, able to accept changes, to accept a total change of regime if it came to it. But I have been brought up in this society and have been conditioned by it. I often feel a sense of vertigo, as it were. I feel like What the hell am I doing? I have hardly any money, no security, no future path cleared ahead of me. I should acquire these things!

But these things are all so fragile. There is no resilience in them.

This brings me on to Sci Fi as a genre. The Drowned World is a science fiction novel. It is very different from the sci fi I have been reading recently, in that it accepts the fragility and temporal reality of our world and society. Often science fiction assumes our society will continue indefinitely far into the future and beyond the confines of this world. I disagree with this. We are not resilient enough. Our planet is subject to huge changes and the situation in The Drowned World is a lot more plausible than many sci fi situations. We are not all powerful. We are just successful animals enjoying a peak.

All animals have a limited capacity. We do not expect a dog to be able to compose a poem or discuss the intricacies of quantum physics. Why then do we expect the human species to have an unlimited capacity? Ages ago there was something on Radio 4 that discussed the limits of human comprehension. Martin Rees suggests robots will be the key to overcoming our biological limitations (though does not go into how the robots will be manufactured or fuelled if fossil fuels were to run out).

The lecture is extremely interesting, especially in relation to writing science fiction. It is neither disparaging of speculative science nor is it fanciful.

To listen to the lecture please follow this link. It’s well worth it, especially for sci fi geeks.

Lastly, the above ideas can be linked to the short story by Kurt Vonnegut entitled Tom Edison’s Shaggy Dog, the premise of which greatly amuses me and which I would like to take on as fact.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Farewell my Lovely

I read Farewell my Lovely the other day. Raymond Chandler’s style is smooth and on the ball. Despite these books having been written in the 40s, they read with a slick freshness rarely found in even the most contemporary of books.

Sure, there are times when I have no idea what the hell is going on, but that’s all cool. It all makes sense in the end. There are some beautiful one liners in there. Chandler’s metaphors sing.

Philip Marlowe is everything I’d want from a PI character. He’s a real man, he’s no pansy. Marlowe’s tough, he knows how to use a gun and he can hold his liquor. When it comes to girls, he’s a smooth player. But he’s not invincible. He admits it when he’s shitting himself because whatever crazy situation he’s in is scary as hell. What I like most about Marlowe is that he doesn’t take himself seriously at all. It’s what pisses all the cops off. He takes on these cases with a nonchalant kind of Who Cares attitude, jokes his way through it and winds up solving the entire thing before the cops even get nearly half way there.

So on Radio 4 there’s a Raymond Chandler season. It’s about to start. I’d better wrap this post up so I can listen. Why don’t you take a look at it too? If you’ve never read any Chandler I’d say go for it.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Million way of drum

There are drums in the novel that I will call my ‘first novel’, even though I wrote five or so novels before it.
The novel is set in the dark ages. There’s a character who is into music, big time. He’s a funky drummer:

A number of my friends and acquaintances are members of a band called The Magic Drum Orchestra (who have a cameo in the aforementioned novel). I love their vibe.

Magic Drum Orchestra - Drop It (Like A Funky Muppet) by jopparelli

You know I love Samurai Champloo. Well if you didn’t, now you do. There is nothing that’s better, in my opinion. It cannot be topped. This is one of my favourites from their soundtrack.

I think I already linked to this crazy drummer dude from Ireland. I’ll link to him again.

Hell yeah!