Under the Dome, by Stephen King

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With a writer as prolific as Stephen King (or Anne Rice, John Updike, etc), there reaches a point where it’s hard to judge each successive work on its own merits — the impulse becomes to judge it against the rest of the writer’s oevre. Is Pandora better than Tale of the Body Thief, but pales in comparison to Interview with a Vampire? Is this book perhaps good in its own right, but rehashing themes that the author’s already done? Is To the End of Time the actualfax worst book that Updike has ever written? Is Under the Dome on par with King’s early classics, or just one of his potboilers?

Well friends, I have no idea, because I don’t actually read Stephen King! The only other book of his I’ve read was The Dead Zone (oh right, and The Gunslinger, ages ago, but I’ve been told that’s quite different from King’s usual style), so my experience with Under the Dome was largely uncolored by his previous books. And in a nutshell, my experience was:

Stephen King does Battle Royale, and does it fuckin’ aces.

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Bending gender (till it breaks): Left Hand of Darkness vs. Ancillary Justice

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There are a lot of books, I think, that are classics in their field, required reading, not because they did their ideas best, but simply because they did them first. Lord of the Flies is my go-to example for this — it didn’t thrill me when I read it, because by that point I’d already read Galax-Arena and Battle Royale (among others) and seen those same ideas explored better elsewhere.

The critical buzz that greeted the release of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice suggested that it was doing just that to Left Hand of Darkness: that this was the gender-bending sci-fi of the new millennium, the long-awaited upgrade to LeGuin’s seminal work on the subject (by now nearly fifty years old). But after reading it, I couldn’t disagree more — Ancillary Justice doesn’t replace Left Hand of Darkness or retread that ground; rather, it complements LeGuin’s story in a way that I have never before seen two novels do, especially not novels written by different authors and separated by decades. In tandem, they explore how gendered pronouns influence the way we perceive and interpret human behavior. They come at the issue from different angles, and in so doing, call into question some of our most basic assumptions about masculine and feminine.

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Gremble goes to Vegas

So back in January, one of my Wills-with-benefits bought me a ticket to fly out to visit him in Vegas. By the time the trip actually rolled around, I was embroiled in the most ridiculously circular finances-related clusterfuck I’d ever been in, and I couldn’t tell if that was the worst time to be taking off for Vegas, or the BEST TIME.

Vegas is weird, man

Some thoughts on writer’s block

Hearkening back to an offhand comment in part 2 of Gremble’s Narratology — I’ve been pondering the question of how-much-do-we-verbalize-our-thoughts, and lately paying more attention to my own cognitive process as I go through daily life. I think I really do verbalize less than half the time, and almost never in complete sentences. I’ll see a dude with nice hair walk by, and the only word that pops out in my brain is, hair, accompanied by a non-verbalized cloud of approval. Or when mentally compiling a grocery list, must buy, followed by images of a bag of frozen broccoli or a gallon of milk, and where those are located in the store. Like some kind of nominal aphasia, that my brain doesn’t finish verbalizing the thought because the word for these things doesn’t come as readily as the rest of it.

I was chatting with a fellow writer-friend about this, and told him as much.

“Huh,” he said. “My thoughts are verbalized about 99% of the time.”

“Huh,” I said. “Really?”

“Yeah. This makes a lot of sense though — because I never could understand it when people say they can’t find the words to explain their thoughts. If I’m thinking something, it’s already in words.”

Which makes me wonder if mental verbalizing — or not, as the case may be — is at all related to writer’s block. If so, I am unutterably envious of people whose brains verbalize more than mine does. Because I’m never, ever out of ideas for fiction, but a frustrating amount of the time, I come up at a loss for words. “Soldier through” isn’t advice that works for me, because for the quality I produce when I’m soldiering, I might as well just roll my face on the keyboard.

The only thing that does work, with some degree of reliability, is to (1) go to bed reading and (2) wake up and write first thing in the morning — i.e., while I still have someone else’s words rattling around in my head. Which, unfortunately, isn’t always feasible when you’re a grown-up with other obligations in your life.

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In other news, I’m back to work on the Dredd fic, and it still takes me a thousand words to get my people out of an elevator. Guys, I am not built for short-form.

GRATE literature, and me

So anyone who’s read me for a while has probably picked up on my ambivalence toward the literary canon — that long list of books that Critics have deemed to be Grate Literature, and that frequently gets derided for being overwhelmingly populated by dead white guys.

Although to be fair, I’m generally not that excited by what dead white ladies have produced either.

Gremble’s Narratology, Part II

So mode and voice and focalization are all well and good, but narratology didn’t dazzle me until I read Dorrit Cohn’s Transparent Minds (1978) because it is all about the issue that is the absolute nearest and dearest to my heart: how writers convey a character’s consciousness to the reader. What are the techniques for conveying a character’s thoughts, emotions, and opinions to the audience?

And most crucially: rather than telling the reader what they’re feeling, how do you make the reader feel what they’re feeling?

And I’m probably doing this in the wrong order, but whatever, skipping to the good parts: Cohn on narrating subjectivity