This stuff can be hard to write this kind of subtlety. There’s few who can pull it off well. Bradbury was one of them, as is Jill Domschot. Scott Adams went overboard in a fine way, in this regard; you could tell he was trying to drive the jokes home with an elephant gun. Forster has a pea shooter and the peas have troll faces on them.
From Room with a View:
Miss Bartlett looked in her purse. Only sovereigns and pennies. Could any one give her change? Freddy had half a quid and his friend had four half-crowns. Miss Bartlett accepted their moneys and then said: “But who am I to give the sovereign to?”
“Let’s leave it all till mother comes back,” suggested Lucy.
“No, dear; your mother may take quite a long drive now that she is not hampered with me. We all have our little foibles, and mine is the prompt settling of accounts.”
Here Freddy’s friend, Mr. Floyd, made the one remark of his that need be quoted: he offered to toss Freddy for Miss Bartlett’s quid. A solution seemed in sight, and even Cecil, who had been ostentatiously drinking his tea at the view, felt the eternal attraction of Chance, and turned round.
But this did not do, either.
“Please–please–I know I am a sad spoil-sport, but it would make me wretched. I should practically be robbing the one who lost.”
“Freddy owes me fifteen shillings,” interposed Cecil. “So it will work out right if you give the pound to me.”
“Fifteen shillings,” said Miss Bartlett dubiously. “How is that, Mr. Vyse?”
“Because, don’t you see, Freddy paid your cab. Give me the pound, and we shall avoid this deplorable gambling.”
Miss Bartlett, who was poor at figures, became bewildered and rendered up the sovereign, amidst the suppressed gurgles of the other youths. For a moment Cecil was happy. He was playing at nonsense among his peers. Then he glanced at Lucy, in whose face petty anxieties had marred the smiles. In January he would rescue his Leonardo from this stupefying twaddle.
“But I don’t see that!” exclaimed Minnie Beebe who had narrowly watched the iniquitous transaction. “I don’t see why Mr. Vyse is to have the quid.”
“Because of the fifteen shillings and the five,” they said solemnly. “Fifteen shillings and five shillings make one pound, you see.”
“But I don’t see–”
They tried to stifle her with cake.
I finally got around to reading Jill Domschot’s The Jaybird’s Nest and other stories (disclaimer: Jill is an Internet acquaintance of mine and has been my editor in the past). The seems ordinary but the stories are not: they are mostly absurdist sci-fi and fantasy, and there’s plenty of humor, mostly subtle or satirical, in the vein of something by Ray Bradbury, or Scott Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide, or a Guy Ritchie film, without all the profanity and bloodshed…or any musical film with a sci-fi element to it. I’d say, in that last example, it’s harder to not have humor in that genre—maybe it has to do with spontaneous singing and choreography that puts human (plus alien, maybe?) interactions in an absurd light by its nature? Just a guess.
But I think it’s harder to write humor, since the to “force” a humorous visual into a readers’ mind is much harder without a glowing screen to assist. Not to insert my own book in a review, but humor of technology or world-view, not necessarily slapstick, was something I tried to do with Pale Blue Scratch. I don’t think I really pulled it off well. I had to concentrate on the story and message more so; the humor of it all came a distant third in the priority list. It’s a noticeable deviation from my intent, but thankfully no one shares my mind so it’s not noticeable to anyone else.
4.5 stars. I would’ve given it 4 stars but the titular story is in second person and that’s hard to pull off well.
From Neil Gaiman’s American Gods:
A sad cockroach lay on its back in the middle of the tiled floor. Shadow took a towel and cleaned off the inside of the tub with it, then ran the water.
Besides being in the same paragraph, there’s nothing syntactically linking the cockroach to the “it” in the second sentence. Regardless, I read it as Shadow cleaning the tub with the cockroach’s guts smeared on the towel, much like a carpenter might stain wood with a cloth wrapped around his finger. Gaiman removes doubt at the end of the paragraph when he mentions the cockroach remaining unmolested on the floor.
Slightly off-topic: I had just finished Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, which seems to have a lot of parallel plot points to this book (a magic carousel, for one). Bradbury went full poetic blast in that book, which was a bit of a turn off compared to Fahrenheit 451, where he (or his editor) held back just enough to make the text flow instead of stutter along. Bradbury writes fantastically about plain things becoming fantastic. Gaiman is the same, but writes very plainly without being simplistic. That’s hard to do.
So, something new. My friend Seth W and I recorded our semi-structured conversation the other day, and we decided to publish it.
Seth talks about Offscreen Magazine
I possibly misuse an economics term
I forgot the name of the Metal Made Flesh graphic novel Kickstarter
Seth talks about the Star Wars book Death Star
I talk about Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, based on the short story Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby Is a Friend of Mine (which I forgot)
We talk about Brompton Bikes, Chrome Industries bags and tell a bike story
“Digression is the soul of wit. Take the philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Hamlet’s father’s ghost and what stays is dry bones.”
-Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
Hello all! Despite the lack of emails the last month or so, things haven’t been quiet regarding Pale Blue Scratch. A week ago I submitted my draft for editing to Jill Domschot, so the weeks leading up to that was full of head-down key-tapping at Starbucks or on my front porch. Western Pennsylvania is in that climatological sweet spot of the year where it hasn’t gotten hot or humid enough outside to be unbearable.
However, this is not a simple status-of-the book email. A sample chapter of Pale Blue Scratch is now up in the spring 2015 edition of Common Oddities – Spring 2015. It’s titled “The Flights at Bridge Zero” and there’s something of a spoiler in it, so be warned. There’s a pdf and an html version on that page, but note that the html bears the incorrect title–another warning!
More to come.
It’s excerpts like this that made me a Bradbury fan:
The lights came on.
For I saw the entire unholy thing. There it was, laid out for me under the drizzling rain.
The lights came on. The men quickened, turned, gathered, and we with them.
A mechanical rabbit popped out of a little box at the far end of the stony yard and ran. Eight dogs, let free from gates, yelping, ran after in a great circle. There was not one yell or a murmur from the crowd of men. Their heads turned slowly, watching. The rain rained down on the illuminated scene. The rain fell upon tweed caps and thin cloth coats. The rain dripped off thick eyebrows and thin noses. The rain beat on hunched shoulders. I stared. The rabbit ran. The dogs ran. At the finish, the rabbit popped into its electric hatch. The dogs collided on each other, barking. The lights went out.
In the dark I turned to stare at the director as I knew he must be turning to stare at me.
2011 was a mostly-arbitrary division of time just like any other, but things happened within that duration in my life that are worth noting. My son got borned in August and I got canned from Noisecreep in the Great AOL/HuffPurge. On the literary side I released Bored in the Breakroom as a free e-book (rave reviews on amazon!) and the short story A Native’s Story real-book.
And in the interest of being an amazon.com affiliate, here are some links to favorite books I read during the year and albums that were released. I won’t deceive you like other bloggers and their multi-post hoo-haa year end link projectile vomiting: this is purely for amazon click-throughs, and because I need a quick break from Retardo Montalbán.
Behold…then pour cheap midnight wine into your bloodstream in celebration of a mechanical ball succumbing to gravity.
The Complete Collection – H.P. Lovecraft
Halo: First Strike – Eric Nylund
All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales – Ray Bradbury
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Lynn Varley
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation – Ray Bradbury, Tim Hamilton
2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke
2010: Odyssey Two – Arthur C. Clarke
The Man Who Was Thursday – G.K. Chesterton
Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories – Franz Kafka
10. Animals as Leaders – Weightless
09. Death – The Sound of Perseverance reissue
08. Deadlock – Bizarro World
07. Demon Hunter – Death: A Destination
06. Death – Individual Thought Patterns reissue
05. iwrestledabearonce – Ruining It For Everybody
04. Death – Human reissue
03. Born of Osiris – The Discovery
02. Life On Repeat – Struggle & Sleep
01. Life In Your Way – Kingdoms (download for free)
The emergence of an Kindle Fire fulfilled a half-prophecy of mine: that it won’t be enough for consumers to have an e-reader that just displays book/document texts. Consumers will want to do a bunch of other things after breezing through the chapters of the latest Wizard Vampire Dragon Tattoo “sleeper”, and since functionality creep is an inevitability with popular gadgets the Fire’s arrival wasn’t a risky prediction.
It’s true that you could always read books on tablets, but the Fire is significant because it’s breaking open functionality on something that was formerly just meant for reading. It’s great that demand is being filled but what’s the use of e-readers if it ends up being just another tablet? It’s much harder to make that mistake with a book. There’s only a limited function set you can do with bound paper and ink, but with digital devices you can see and do nearly anything. There’s no mistaking a book for something else but with smartphone technology you’ll get anything.
Fahrenheit 451 predicted a lot of things accurately but one thing I think Bradbury missed. Book, before they were outlawed for being “confusing”, got dumbed down first. They won’t need to be dumbed down, you just need to have other forms of easy entertainment else available and books will become too tedious*.
Photo by RLHyde.
* I’m not poo-pooing e-readers at all and I don’t think they will destroy books, either digital or physical, like they did in Bradbury’s universe. I’m just pointing out the potential pitfalls of the technology that previously were not there with physical books. Maybe I shouldn’t make this disclaimer a footnote.
Photo by boogieswithfish.