a long time ago, in the salad days of my relationship with boingboing, back when we held hands and sang “tra-la-la” whilst skipping through fields of daisies, when xeni wasn’t even a sidebar, much less an editor, a very long time ago indeed…
i thought it was awfully cool that one of the boingboing editors, one of the folks who did that cool blog read by all the people in the know and on the cutting edge, actually published a book. it was called “down and out in the magic kingdom”, and eventually, i read it.
it was awful. it made me angry that it was printed. i very rarely have the response, “oh, i could do better,” but in this case, i did. the characters were flat and the whole thing was just student grade writing, a vehicle for a set of hip ideas that this guy should have written up as non-fiction. blog entries, maybe.
time passed, my anger faded. i decided to try his other books. i bought them last month for vacation reading: “eastern standard tribe”, and “someone comes to town, someone leaves town”.
“eastern standard tribe” angered me just as much as the first one. i actually dogeared examples of crappy writing so i could do a proper critique. well, one example:
bq. “Art bought a stale, sterno-reeking pretzel that was crusted with inedible volumes of yellowing salt, and squirted a couple bucks at a panhandler who had been pestering him in thick Jamaican patois but thanked him in adenoidal Brooklynese.”
_squirted???_ ok, i can appreciate an expressive verb. i once read a short story that contained the phrase: “…she snatched a comb through her hair…” and i thought that was brilliant. snatched is perfect– you understand her mood just by that one verb. squirted… fails to acheive a similar effect here. it buys you nothing. and it clearly replaces not a single adjective.
and the whole damn thing is like that.
so reluctantly, i pushed onward to the third novel, a proper novel this time, not a novella in large font, and within the first paragraph i knew that Cory Doctorow had grown up as a writer and this was a real book, a good piece of writing, not student work at all.
The transformation is stunning. I don’t know if he just _grew,_ or got a decent editor, or if it’s the first book he’s written while not holding down another paying job, but it’s like a different writer is writing.
The difficulty for me, as a reader, is that this book is quite horrifying. It reminds me a little bit too much of one of the reasons I stopped reading fiction almost completely several years ago– a book that made me want to read less.
I was on a bit of an Orson Scott Card kick– I liked his sci-fi. I didn’t know he also wrote horror novels. One day I was plundering the Nice Price sci-fi section and ran across a Card book called “The Lost Boys”. It was some kind of pre-market paperback– a promo copy, without the kind of summary on the back cover that would normally tell a reader what kind of book it was. So I bought it, and I read it.
That book still gives me the creeps. It was one of his horror novels, and it took me a good while to realize where the story was going– I was expecting sci-fi.
I think my reading habit dropped off a lot after I read that book. It was just… awful. shudder.
Well, “Someone comes to town, Someone leaves town” reminds me of “Lost Boys”. Not quite as creepy, but I was unprepared for one of the main characters to be an intelligent, evil zombie. Don’t get me wrong, I still think zombies can be PURE. COMEDY. GOLD. But not this one. I think only dumb zombies are funny.
But dammit– I want to keep reading, I want to find out what happens. Just please, _please_ don’t damage my psyche in the process! Please don’t make it even harder for me to fall asleep.
Damn you Cory Doctorow!!! Why did you have to finally write a book worth reading?