Random Weekend Thoughts
Could Less Be More?
I’ve been thinking about posting longer articles with less frequency. A piece every day, in days which are sometimes fraught with meetings and a tight writing schedule, plus the everyday bore of household chores, is manageable but tends to take the edge off my regular word count. Also, I’d like to write a few more in-depth pieces, like the ones I used to write about London buildings.
Trouble is, there are so many excellent bloggers writing about Londoniana and doing a better job than I ever can. Perhaps I should stick to writing about stories – which is what writers always come down to in the end. Articles posted twice a week feels about right. I’ll try it out and see how we go, probably posting on a Saturday and a Wednesday, but not sticking slavishly to a schedule, so that there could be more posts when I’ve been doing more (like going out – remember that?)
SF: Getting The Future Wrong
I’ve just been reading a thousand page SF novel which I feel must have been a lot more fun for the writer to write than the reader to read. It was filled with interesting ideas, great turns of phrase, interesting design and big themes, but the author clearly found writing about actual human beings a chore. This is my problem with most SF; it ignores people for things and ideas. It’s not enough to have mighty powers of invention if you can’t create relatable human characters.
We all love ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ as much for its lack of characters as its grandeur, but that effect is harder to create on the page. Perhaps, as Arthur C Clarke found with ‘The Sentinel’, it worked better in sparely written short form. For all I know there could be dozens of SF writers who have managed it well, but in my admittedly limited experience their characters usually come a distant second to descriptions of the vasty vastness of space and immense alien races called ‘The Immense’ or something similar.
My novel ‘The Sand Men’ received an excoriating review in ‘Interzone’, in which I was accused of not understanding SF (it’s not an SF book but we’ll let that pass), as if SF was the secret province of geeks into which no-one else is ever allowed to trespass. On the other hand it got a full-page rave in the Los Angeles Times, so who cares about Interzone. For some reason many of those who write about SF ring-fence it in incomprehensibility, as if they were reviewing obscure little-played console games. And I don’t see too many women being attracted to the genre even after all this time, so perhaps I’ll give it a swerve in future, especially as most SF I’ve read has really just been fantasy and very little that is predicted ever comes true.
Certain authors are sticky. I keep picking up Stefan Zweig books and finding them glued to my hands. He doesn’t seem capable of writing a sentence without a point. He’s endlessly quotable (‘Society is always most cruel to those who betray its secrets’), elegant, clear and commanding. Is this the secret of readability – clarity?
My father told me that he liked reading American scientific papers because they were so clear in intent. Certain writers like Zweig and say, Thornton Wilder have this clean eloquence. Partly it is because fewer emotions are described and more sentences promote action, or conjure an image. It helps if the writer knows where s/he is going. There is nothing more pleasurable than being led through a novel by someone you trust.
Lately I have abandoned 50% of the books I’ve started. I have been trying to be more egalitarian in my selection but have come a cropper with poorly written polemical state-of-play novels that fail to understand the basic contract that must exist between writer and reader. The result of this poor percentage is that I’m falling back on authors I trust – especially now. There are too many other uncertainties in the world to suffer an uncertain novel.