Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin McKinley


McKinley is rapidly joining the ranks of authors that I have really really liked in the past, and would really really like to keep liking, but whose recent works have been on a one-way track to uninspired-town. (Tanya Huff and Neal Stephenson are also on that list.) The first of McKinley’s books I read was Beauty, which I reread not long ago and still highly recommend, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that is immediately absorbing and has a wholly lovable protagonist. My other favorite of hers is Sunshine, which I enjoy far more than I have any right to, given that it’s a product of the “age-old vampire x teenage girl” genre popularized by Twilight. And yet.

My recent forays into narratology have left me better equipped to analyze what, exactly, it is about a text that makes it succeed or fail, and on the subject of Robin McKinley, my conclusion is this:

1) She’s far better at creating character via first-person narration than third. (Although it’s no guarantee — her first-person Dragonhaven was a solid dud as well.)

2) Outlaws of Sherwood suffers from too much summary and too little scene. Seriously, I was 13% of the way through and there had been all of one actual scene — as in, dialogue and in-the-moment action — and the rest had been the narrator summarizing what they’d been up to. Boring as balls. Give me character subjectivity, or give me SOMETHING ELSE TO READ. I persisted up to 33%, then quit to go replay Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Counter-rec: Beauty if you want ye olde medieval fantasy, Sunshine if you want decent urban fantasy.

ETA: Apparently this came out in 2002?? Then why did I drunk-kindle-buy it last October and it was like, Congratulations on pre-ordering Outlaws of Sherwood! Whatever.

np, by Yoshimoto Banana (39/107)

Never thought I’d say this, but I actually prefer Yoshimoto Banana’s short-form fiction. She’s very good at sketching out characters’ lives in relatively few words, at evoking the dissonant push-pull of love when it doesn’t fit together quite right, but I’m not sure she has the substance to sustain longer works.

It should be said though, that np is wildly misrepresented by their design choices for the cover:

Pink and purple, swirly font for the title, a hip young woman looking boldly at the camera, “a mesmerizing novel of Japan’s Generation X” — this is chick lit, right?

No, it is a Gothic novel.

Discontinued books — Anathem and As Meat Loves Salt (34,35/107)

Back in August I was telling one of my random hookups about my 107 books project and he asked, “Which one are you least looking forward to reading?” And my answer was, “Uhm… none of them?” Because I wouldn’t have bought them if I didn’t want to read them, right.

New answer: these two.

The Cobweb, by Neal Stephenson and some other dude (32/107)

So I came across this in the SFF section of a Half-Price Books and I was like, Holy smokes, a Neal Stephenson book that I’ve never even heard of before!? How can this be?? (Also, who is this J. Frederick George person?)

Well, because it’s not sci-fi/fantasy, it’s a dated political thriller. To wit: it has Bob Dole sitting down for lunch with Saddam Hussein.

I read about a third of it, because I do like Stephenson’s writing (man gives good metaphor), but ultimately political thrillers are not really my thing — particularly not ones that were intensely topical in the late nineties, when I was all of thirteen years old. Zodiac is a Stephenson book that has aged much better (and is a hell of a lot more fun), with only a handful of computer related moments that will have you going “bwuh…? o_O” and flipping to check the publication date.

In collaborative works it’s interesting to guess at who was responsible for what parts — in Good Omens, the Four Horsemen are so obviously Gaiman’s creation, as he indulges his horror-fantasy kink, and the kids being ~soooooo cute~ are all Pratchett. In Havemercy, a four-way split to the narration lends itself well to multiple authors, and I’m guessing they just took two apiece. (Jane Yolen and… Bruce Coville? also did an interesting YA book called Armageddon Summer that alternated chapters between two POV characters.)

In this case, I think Neal Stephenson wrote the whole thing and made up an imaginary friend for his co-author, because it all feels like him. In particular, feels like Reamde where *everything* is a gun on the table that’s going to come into play at the climax. (I’m almost tempted to finish The Cobweb just to satisfy a bet with myself, about whether the drunk Russians with the private plane are going to be important at the end. But given that this is Neal Stephenson we’re talking about, I don’t think anyone would take that bet.)