Sunday, November 30, 2014

Foster's Lost and Found and Grossman's The Magicians

I've had for two more books since I've posted last (I really need to find a second job...):


     This was a fluffy thing about a modern Flash Gordon type who gets kidnapped into space along with a random dog. Now, I've read a lot of Alan Dean Foster, but most of those books have been movie or TV adaptations. It's something that he's very good at, fleshing out characters without deviating too much from a script. Without that script, he's a bit of a Terry Pratchett style humorist, with the same inclination to pose light moral situations. Here, it's all about not judging alien lifeforms by the way the look, but by how they fill in slots on the team, because we're all in the same gang, et al. His writing style on this is very thesaurus heavy, utilizing as many long words as possible to fill up the pages. That's not really a complaint, but it was a surprising change in tone compared to his earlier novels. I was, however, really annoyed by the dog character, who comes off as a refugee from a muppet movie. His intelligence has been artificially enhanced by the aliens, which gives him the ability to talk, but also gives him the ability to know about human concepts such as expressways and restaurants, which a dog wouldn't have experienced. I'm sure it's all in the name of comedy, but it comes off as irritating and stretches the fourth wall too much.

     I guess this is the sort of thing that people read on their long commutes. There's no real point to it unless you want obvious ideas of heroism and companionship confirmed for you. It has some funny moments, but not enough for me to recommend this outright. There are other books to read:


     I picked this one up because the sci-fi/fantasy crowd had been raving about this as some sort of post-modern masterpiece. I found it to be a badly written mess with some interesting ideas. Our main character, Quentin Coldwater, as befits his name, ends up going to the American version of Hogwarts. This actually skews toward an older student base, picking up at the end of high school. But the characters never stop acting like generic high school students, which I suspect is meant to be the "point" of the novel. Living in a world based on elements from Narnia and Harry Potter results in the production of adults without any emotional coping skills. Which would be fine, if reading about such things didn't come off as annoying. Every time Quentin comes to a point in his life where a normal person would mature and move on, some little deus ex machina occurs that prevents any character development from happening.

     The novel also isn't plotted very well and is presented in a ADD style where events and people are mentioned and then disappear for chapters at a time, without any sort of proper narrative segue. Perhaps this is just the new "post-modern" style, meant to mimic reality. In practice, it just makes the book confusing and makes one wish that there was an index. Sometimes entire passages appear which appear to be from an entirely different book. There's a chapter about the wizard school game "welters" (where everyone makes references to Quidditch, ha-ha post-modern again) that ends with this paragraph:

"He whipped his shirt off over his head. Ignoring the rising yelps of dismay on all sides -- it was so easy to ignore people when you understood how little power they really had over you -- he walked over to where Alice stood, dumbstruck, on her square. He would probably regret this later, but God it was good to be a magician sometimes. He hoisted her over his shoulder fireman-style and jumped with her into the freezing, cleansing water."

      This is supposed to be the culmination of a game that appears to be very important to the group of friends involved, but isn't presented with any clear resolution (the rules of the game itself are barely presented to the reader) and is never mentioned again. This whole chapter is spent on the welter tournament, but has no effect on the plot, or apparently, the characters. And I really can't figure out what, if anything, HAPPENED there. Is that a celebration of a winning move? Is Quentin purposefully losing the game? Is he losing beyond his control and trying to do something "manly" to prove that he doesn't care? I just can't tell.

     The frustrating thing is that this isn't an entirely terrible novel. There's a lot of thought given in to wizardly things; a chapter wherein the kids have to turn into geese to fly to another school and are then transformed into primal arctic foxes is particularly powerful. There's just no cohesion to these ideas, they're thrown out without any thought to the reader's place in the story. It's as if the reader is expected to be as directionless as the anti-hero Coldwater. Grossman just isn't a good enough writer yet to pull that sort of non-narrative off (as when we're given random, repetitious reminders that that Quentin really, really likes the "Fillory" (Narnia) books that he grew up with).  In the end, I'm disappointed, but intrigued enough to give him another chance in the future. Perhaps the next book in the trilogy will be better.

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