No Country for Old Men; Carrie; Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town; Foundation and Empire; Xenocide

by Mike Shea on 31 August 2005

Update and a Quick Note: I've been to New Orleans four times in the last five years for conferences and trips. A couple of years ago I went there with my family for Christmas. I ate beignets at Cafe Du Monde. I took pictures out front of the palace near the river. Now I'm seeing streets I walked down now flooded and hearing reports of thousands dead. I can't imagine what it's like in that superdome. Anyway, I am lucky enough to be at a point in my life where I can donate to the Red Cross to do what little I can to help. If you are able, you might consider it as well.

Time for some book reports.

I recently listened to Cormac Mccarthy's No Country for Old Men after Stephen King's recommendation in Entertainment Weekly (a one-page article that cost me $3 to read). No Country is a fun pulp-like crime novel following a few Texas local good guys as they get involved with a bad Mexican drug deal gone horribly wrong. Mccarthy introduces Chigurh (pronounced "shuGur"), a hitman with a hard core philosophy on life and death, one of the more interesting characters in the story. The story doesn't lie at any point. You can see the way Mccarthy lets his characters run the story instead of forcing them down a particular path. I haven't quite finished the book yet but it begins to turn into a philosophical essay on the fall of the United States since Viet Nam instead of the thriller it had started as. Still, it was a good read for the 8 hours and $10 I spent on Audible.

Before Old Country I listened to Stephen King's "Carrie". I don't think I had read this book all the way through since I was a kid and I enjoyed it a lot. It is far different from the excellent movie but both are good on their own merits. I was shocked when Carrie never turned up in any of the Dark Tower books considering all of the tie-ins. Carrie would have been a monster Breaker in Thunderclap. Reading Carrie gave me an idea for a future story I plan to write called "The White". Carrie is a great read.

Before Carrie I listened to Xenocide by Orson Scott Card. What a snoozer. This is the first time since a "F&SF Best Of" that I ever skipped ahead in a book. I just couldn't take the constant description, lack of action of any sort, and the huge pontifications on pseudo-science. One of the characters has an ingrained bit of OCD that forces her to trace grains along the wood floor of her room. This act is described so many times that I began to feel like I was tracing my own lines over and over and over again. I can't think of a more boring science fiction book that I have ever read. It was really awful. I plan to try the next Orson Scott Card book but I need a few others. Card is a great writer and Ender's Game is one of the best SF novels written, but Xenocide just about completely turned me off of his other work. Avoid Xenocide.

Next up on my ipod is Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, Lois McMaster Bujold's Paladin of Souls, and Arthur C. Clark's 3001.

On the dead-trees front I read Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Empire. It's not a bad book but it runs into a lot of pompous description between upper-crust intellectuals and a super secret ending that I guessed the minute the surprise character was introduced 100 pages in. It kept my interest enough for me to consider Second Foundation but overall I am not nearly impressed with Asimov as I am with Arthur C. Clark as far as classical SF authors go.

My favorite blogger and Creative Commons releasing author, Cory Doctorow put out his own new book; Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. Here is a letter I sent to Doctorow about his book:I finished your book this last weekend and I wanted to send a note to tell you what I thought. I enjoyed it a lot. There are some real moments of power for your characters. Early on when Alan brings Marci to his cave and Edward-Frederick-George mutely brought them the toy trucks I broke out in tears and I don't tear up easily in a novel. It brought real clarity to their isolated lives and their desire to simply be normal.

Alan's relationship with Marci is also very powerful as it transforms from childhood love to something else when she realizes who he is. As sad as the conclusion to that relationship was, nothing was as sad as Edward with the toy trucks just looking for someone to play with. Even writing this makes me tear up.

Your characters are excellent, very real and three-dimensional. We watch them grow and learn but we don't see them ever break who they really are. It was very natural and very real. Again, though we knew about her wings throughout most of the book, seeing Mimi soaring out of the window still gave me chills. It was a good slice of fantasy into a very realistically built world.

Ok, so now the bad stuff.

I have the unfortunate position of having read your boing boing articles for a long time and I couldn't quite let that go when I read the descriptions of the wifi network. Most of the wifi network stuff seemed to be either the plot, a subplot, or a parallel plot to Alan and his quest to find out who he is. The two plots never seemed to come together, I felt little connection. I liked the wifi plot a lot; it reminded me of Gibson's Pattern Recognition; but it had little to do with Alan and his family.

Also, you use two strange writing trends that jumped out like a stubbed toe. I never got the changing names. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that you at least gave us the first letter. I remember reading Orson Scott Card's rules for naming characters where he tells us never to use two characters with the same first letter but ignoring the rest of the person's name seemed lazy to me. In my own writing I have a tendency to forget the names of my own characters and replace them with other words as I write so I can just go back and fix them later. Someone Comes to Town felt like you forgot to go do the search-and-replaces and fix up their names. I got the idea that the changing names were mainly for those who were "different" and that maybe if your father is a mountain and your mother is a washing machine, you might never hear what your name really is. Still, it stuck out to see the names changing and took my mind off of the story.

The second and thankfully less-used trend was the break in the middle of an introductory sentence to add description:I went to the house,

(she said, as he tended the fire, turning the yams in the coals and stirring the pot in which his fish stew bubbled)

I went to the house,

(she said, resting up from the long flight she'd flown from Toronto to Craig's distant, warm shores, far away from Kensington Market and Krishna and Billy and Danny)

I went to the house,

(she said, and Andy worked hard to keep the grin off his face, for he'd been miserable during her long absence and now he could scarcely contain his delight)

I went to the house, and there was no one home. I had the address you'd given me, and it was just like you'd described it to me, down to the basketball hoop in the driveway.

This drove me batshit. It was all I could do not to skip the description and just jump to the other side of the sentence. A much more boring and conservative approach would have been much less jarring and painful.

I liked your book a lot. After Gaiman's "American Gods" and a lot of the contemporary fantasy in Fantasy and Science Fiction these days, I am growing tired of the genre. More recently I prefer George R.R. Martin's Elizabethian fantasy to contemporary faeries living in New York City, but I had no trouble picking up or finishing off "Someone Comes to Town". It is very well written and the characters are thick and warm. I look forward to seeing what you do next.

Next up on my nightstand is Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin. I loved Game of Thrones and so far, 50 pages in, I love Storm of Swords just as well. No one builds up the dripping detail of a great fantasy world like Martin.

I have a new theme song stuck in my head, a song that will likely drive the writing of my next Vrenna story, Vrenna and the Little Danken. The song is track 13 from the Last of the Mohican's soundtrack called "Promentory" available from for like 14 cents in open and glorious mp3.