Monday, July 21, 2008

Book Report: Incompetence, by Rob Grant

I enjoyed Grant's take on the Western world's weight obsession (FAT), so I picked this up. It's set in a near-future Europe where you don't have to be capable to be employed. Harry Salt, a detective/spy, investigates the death of his mentor at the hands of a mass-murderer who seems to be one step ahead of him no matter what he does. The comedy comes from his constant encounters with people and institutions who are totally incapable: airline clerks unable to sell tickets, a "sexually inappropriate" hotel greeter, a clerk in an elaborate train station built in the middle of nowhere where no train ever stops, a police captain with serious anger management issues, and a host of others.

Most of the scenes are hilarious as small annoyances grow into massive roadblocks with a series of complications that Seinfeld and David would admire. However, they occur with such frequency that they began to wear on me. They never became predictable, but as they began to unfold, I found myself thinking, "here's another one." and eventually wished the book would just get on with the plot. The plot itself is too simple to justify a book of this length, and serves primarily as a device to introduce Harry's various encounters. That made the reading experience less rewarding than I had hoped.

Ulysses Rating: 3 - I enjoyed this, but I didn't love it.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Book Report: Making Money by Terry Pratchett

There are only two authors who work I will acquire without so much as looking at the cover. One is Tim Powers, the other is Terry Pratchett. This latest Discworld novel, the 36th(!) in the series, contains everything that I read Pratchett for: a cunning plot in a world that is an absurd, fantasy funhouse-mirror of our own, and a wicked, pointed, satiric humor. What elevates him above other satirists is his genuine affection for the world and the characters that infest it. In all his work, the villains are sympathetic, misguided, desperate, and their evil is understandable although no less evil for that. His heroes are unlikely, and have to fight their own less-than-heroic nature as often as they have to oppose the villain's schemes.

This time, he focuses again on Moist Von Lipwig, the hero of Going Postal who finds himself thrust into the job of Chairman for a bank on the verge of collapse. The parallels to our current economic times (on both sides of the Atlantic) are many, but our world doesn't have complicating factors like a chief clerk who is a savant with a hidden past that involves custard, a malevolent pair of dentures, a bank owner with a unique approach to an identity crisis, and the imminent arrival of a handful of golems who may be made of gold, or possibly more than a handful.

Pratchett makes beautiful work, and this one goes on my shelf beside every one of his other books. I will take it down again and again, sometimes to read just the occasional passage and sometimes to read the whole thing through again.

Ulysses Rating: 5 - I will read this again and again.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Current Reading: Making Money, by Terry Pratchett

Inspirational Quote: "More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -- Woody Allen

Interesting discussion over on agent Nathan Bransford's blog. Could you maintain a book-a-year pace while keeping the work fresh, interesting and good? In one of the comments, someone mentions Stephen King saying that if you take longer than about 18 months to write a book, you're goofing around.

So I find myself wondering, can I write a book in a year? Never mind maintaining that output. Can I even achieve it?

My "Magnus Somnium" has taken me somewhat close to eight years and I'm only about 2/3 of the way through the second draft. I've been struggling with writing even one word on it for about three months now (although I've been able to complete other work in that time). Am I tired of it? Am I stalling? Is there a psychologist in the house?

I had decided to give it up, to consign it to the bit-bucket, there to await resurrection come judgement day. I've started a new work, something a little zen... but with demons and blood and stuff, of course. It's fun. It's fresh. The ideas for it are coming from a mind eight years more mature than the ideas that form the core of the Magnus.

But recently I attended a meeting of my face-to-face writer's group where one of the chapters of the Magnus Somnium was dissected. The way they discussed it reminded me just why I loved it, and how much I wanted them to read the rest of it, and how much I wanted there to be a "rest of it" for them to read.

Now I'm torn. I keep looking at the Magnus and wondering if I should go back and face the terrible uphill battle to completion. I keep wondering, am I making a mistake abandoning it? Am I making a mistake not abandoning it? Thus, I feel the quote above is appropriate.

When do you abandon a work? Are you ever certain you're doing the right thing, or is it only the passage of time that gives you perspective enough for certainty?

And, while I'm asking questions, "How is it possible to find meaning in a finite world, given my waist and shirt size?" (Allan Stewart Konigsberg again).