Thursday, September 07, 2006

Not my world

The Children of Men, by P.D. James. This reminded me a little bit of The Handmaid's Tale: it presented a bleak, dystopian future without giving hard reasons for it. You would expect at least some science in a story like this, but there wasn't any. The story was interesting and the plot was good, but there were some items about the writing style that bothered me. The first was merely annoying; the author used colons instead of commons when introducing dialogue ("He said:" vs. "He said,"). I care about things like that, so it took away from the reading for me, but probably wouldn't pose a problem for the average reader. The second thing is a little more important: the author bounced between using the character's diary entries and the third person omnipotent observer. I've seen this before and it often works well. I wasn't as impressed by this use, because the character's diary entries too closely resembled the author's own style, both in the way they wrote and what they wrote about. Because they were so similar, it felt more like the flipping between first and third person that poor writers often do unintentionally and less like a tool to help add to the story. Other books that make me not want to be around in the future include A Brave New World and Creed for the Third Millennium.  

Raven's Gate, by Anthony Horowitz. There are many books that place magic or other supernatural/extrasensory stories in a very modern setting. I generally dislike them. It is very difficult to strike the right balance between leaving in enough of the real word while not adding too much of the implausible. Many authors avoid the problem by creating fantasy worlds, most of which are just terrible. I much prefer those set in the past, or even the future. The Harry Potter stories work so well because, outside of their hidden school, the world is the same as ever. Magical places are small and well hidden. Another author I though mixed the two worlds well was Charlaine Harris in her Dead Until Dark series (I haven't read her other work).

One other thought, most recently related to Children: I really do read randomly. I read work by authors I've heard of because the book jacket is a nice color, or because it sounds like a fun name to say ("What are you reading today?" "Oh, Turtledove."). I go down the Dewey section in the campus library and check out books because I feel sorry for them, all alone and unread for the last 30 years. I don't read book jackets or prepare for my reading by doing research on the author. I often don't know the title or the author, sometimes both, of the book I'm reading at any given time; I wait until after I'm done reading to put all the facts together. So it's a fairly common occurrence for me to read a book and be ready to swear up and down as to the gender of the author. Such was the case is P.D. James The Children of Men. I was sure the author was a dude. It wasn't until, finished and flipping through the last few pages, I read the book jacket and saw the author's picture, showing she was female. This idiosyncrasy is compounded by my own gender. That is, when a male author is writing in the first person for a female character, I can usually pick it out. As a woman, I feel many of the reactions and thoughts to be fake or unrealistic. There are very few male authors whose female characters are totally feminine. Female authors writing about male characters, on the other hand, I can rarely pick out. What female authors totally capture their male characters? We can describe how the men in our lives would react, but we never know what they are thinking. Which male authors are honest in their portrayals of male characters? Do they want to keep a little something back from their readers, leaving the inner man a mystery? Please post.

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