Category Archives: Fiction

Why I don’t read science fiction.

Early on in his column about the books he reads every month (in Ten Years in the Tub), Nick Hornby decided that he would read something he would ordinarily never read. He chose something in the science fiction genre. He would quickly realize his mistake. One of the books he chose to read was one by Iain M. Banks called Excession. Hornby had this to say about the experience:

…nothing in the twenty-odd pages I managed of Excession was in any waybad; it’s just that I didn’t understand a word. I didn’t even understand the blurb on the back of the book…

…The urge to weep tears of frustration was already upon me even before I read the short prologue…By the time I got to the first chapter, which is entitled “Outside Context Problem” and begins “(CGU Grey Area signal sequence file #n428857/119),” I was crying so hard I could no longer see the page in front of my face, at which point I abandoned the entire ill-conceived experiment altogether. (148)

This was hilarious, because this has been my own experience with science fiction as well. I liked The Chrysalids in high school. I read Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed  in university for a utopian literature class (though it was an example of the opposite) and enjoyed it. I also enjoyed Ender’s Game. I managed to read little more than a chapter or two of Dune, which, from what I can tell, is to science fiction what Lord of the Rings is to fantasy. Buy my sci-fi reading ended there and the reason is exactly like what Hornby says of the science fiction he tried to read: I don’t understand it.

I’ve had a copy of Ursula K. Leguin’s The Left Hand of Darkness for a decade or more. I enjoyed The Dispossessed enough to think about reading more LeGuin. (Plus I think Bruce Cockburn may have mentioned it as an influence on some song or other of his.) But every time I open it up to give it a go, I am stopped by this, the beginning of chapter 1:

From the Archives of Hain. Transcript of Ansible Document 01-01101-9342-Gethen: To the Stabile on Ollul: Report from Genly Ai, First Mobile on Gethen/Winter, Hainish Cycle 93, Ekumenical Year 1490-97.

How am I supposed to read beyond that? Is there an explanatory prequel I’m unaware of which I should read first? Is this any way to start a novel? Tolkien is filled with names and history we know nothing about, but at least he does us the courtesy of starting The Lord of the Rings with a prologue about some creatures we can at least identify with.

And what’s with the numbers? As Hornby’s experience shows, this seems to be normal sci-fi stuff. Are we to believe that these numbers are not just random sequences meant to look futurey and sciencey—that they actually mean something? Because I don’t buy it.

I assume that all will be explained as I read the novel, but I’m not sure I’m interested.

East Coast Literature

Remember that time that I posted about how much I like melancholic maritime fiction?  No, well, I did.  Today Rilla posted this on my Facebook wall.  It is both AWESOME and hilarious, mostly because it’s an incredibly accurate summary of the genre. In other words, it’s funny ’cause it’s true.  Of course, if you’ve never read any of this type of lit, it won’t seem like such a big deal:

Some sabbath poems

Came across these during some morning “fun” (i.e. non-assignment) reading this morning.

II

I dream of a quiet man
who explains nothing and defends
nothing, but only knows
where the rarest wildflowers
are blooming, and who goes,
and finds that he is smiling
not by his own will.

* * *

IV

What consolation it is, after
the explanations and the predictions
of further explanations still
to come, to return unpersuaded
to the woods, entering again
the presence of the blessed trees.
A tree forms itself in answer
to its place and to the light.
Explain it how you will, the only
thing explainable will be
your explanation. There is
in the woods on a summer’s
morning, birdsong all around
from guess where, nowhere
that rigid measure which predicts
only humankind’s demise.

(Both from “Sabbaths 1999” in Wendell Berry’s Given: Poems)

First lines

He awoke with the realization that he had brewed a pot of tea some hours before but had forgotten to pour himself a cup; the pot had gone to waste.  This startling thought hung about him, solid against the cool air drifting in one window, across the bed, and out the other. A gust of wind rushed through the trees outside;  “This is your life,” they whispered.

Oh, Archie.

I woke up this morning to a shocking news story (and not just because the word “shocker” is in the headline):

Archie shocker: Comic book hero picks Veronica

In what’s being billed the “Archie Story of the Century,” perennially indecisive loverboy Archie Andrews has finally chosen the raven-haired Veronica Lodge over sunny girl-next-door Betty Cooper, according to the official Archie Comics website.

“Could it be true? Has Archie finally decided to take the plunge and propose to comics’ favourite rich girl? It sure looks that way!” read a note posted online Wednesday.

The posting is accompanied by a comic book cover featuring Archie, on one knee, offering a ring up to Veronica, depicted saying “Yes!” A teary Betty and shocked Jughead — Archie’s best friend — look on.

The storyline will span a six-part series, beginning with the comic’s issue number 600, Archie Marries Veronica Part 1: The Proposal, set to hit comic shops Aug. 19 and newsstands on Sept. 1, according to the post.  (CBC.ca – link)

This is, of course, a marketing gimmick to boost sales.  Show me a teenager who still buys and reads Archie Double Digests in these tough economic times ever.  But still: Veronica?

Questions arise:

  • Will Veronica’s father even allow this?  Has his opinion of Archie changed?  Or will his elitism and high society snobbery win the day?
  • Why Veronica?  She has never treated Archie well.  Is he blind?
  • Doesn’t Archie see that Betty has not only outer beauty–and natural outer beauty at that–but is also beautiful on the inside?
  • Why Veronica?
  • Will Reggie manage to sabotage the nuptials?  Or (more likely) will Veronica dump Archie at the altar (for Reggie)?
  • Why Veronica?

I’ve always been of the opinion that Betty is the better choice for Archie.  Whereas Veronica is high maintenance, Betty is down-to-earth and natural; whereas Veronica is at heart a snobby rich girl, Betty is a good samaritan; whereas Veronica has some deep-seated psychological issues she tries to placate or ignore by living a life of materialism and (non-sexual) promiscuity, Betty is balanced and devoted.

Also, Betty is more beautiful.

Need I go on?

I twittered my opinion upon reading the news: “Apparently Archie finally chooses Veronica over Betty. If this is true, he has absolutely chosen wrong. I hope their marriage survives.”  Scott (Twitter) concurred in a comment to my Facebook status (fed by Twitter–what a tangled web we weave!) saying, “I agree… a women who can rebuild an engine is a far better catch than a girl with money…”

However, Ky tweeted back with an interesting take: “I always wanted him to choose [Veronica] because I thought Betty deserved better.” Her point being that while Betty may be the better choice between the two girls, Archie may not be the best boy for Betty. (It does beg the question, though, which Riverdale boy would be good enough for Betty?  Certainly not Reggie.  Jughead?  Moose?  Mr. Weatherby? Who?)

I’d never thought of it this way before.  As an adolescent, it was always about which is the best girl of the two.  I always thought Betty was the prettiest and nicest and thought Archie was an idiot for chasing Veronica all the time (sometimes standing up Betty in the process).  I had never considered whether Archie, whom the CBC.ca article hyperbolously and oxymoronically calls a “hero”, is good for Betty.  And maybe he isn’t.  Archie is a fool for choosing Veronica over Betty, but maybe Betty is the fool for adoring Archie.

Maybe Betty is too good for any man, other than the generations of adolescent boys who’ve been following her, protecting her, wanting and wishing the best for her.

Maybe Archie choosing Veronica is the best thing for Betty, if not for Archie.

Maybe it’s time for both Betty and Archie to spread their wings and leave Riverdale and discover that there it’s a big world out there, where not every story has a happy ending, where high school doesn’t go on indefinitely, where people no longer drive jalopies, and where there are other men and women, some of them better matches for you than those near your home.

Take care Archie.  You still have time to get out of this–you’re not married yet.

Veronica: if you do tie the knot, treat Archie well.  You are equals in that relationship: don’t seek to control Archie.  You are in this together.

And Betty: you take care, too.  Follow your dreams.  Hit the open road.  Travel.  Discover.  Live, for goodness’ sake, Betty–live.

* * *

For the record, here’s how I think it will go down: Veronica and Archie will not, in the end, marry.  Somehow Veronica will walk away, fall for some hairbrained scheme of Reggie’s.  Or maybe Archie will see the light and break off the engagement with Veronica to pursue the woman he really loves: Big Ethel Betty.  This ending would have made me happy in the past, but now I’m not so sure anymore, for Betty’s sake (she’d be a good wife, but would Archie be a good husband?)

Second possibility: his disdain for Archie and his middle-class ilk continuing, Veronica’s dad tries to intervene to break off the engagement.  Veronica refuses, her love for Archie being genuine.  Veronica’s father disowns her, disinherits her.  Veronica becomes a changed woman through her love for Archie: she forsakes wealth and power and even family for life as a dutiful housewife of middle-class mediocrity (not poverty per se) with Archie.  (Or maybe it’ll be a little more second millenium than that.)

Further possibility: Betty does not choose any man, choosing the single (and rumour-filled) life.  She leaves Riverdale and becomes a powerful businesswoman and activist.

And Jughead keeps eating crap without putting on weight, that lousy so-and-so.

Good news for Tolkien fans

New Line Cinema and Peter Jackson have kissed and made up, so to speak, and Jackson is now set to direct and produce a 2-part film version of The Hobbit.

I’m a little surprised that they are making it a two-part film. When you consider that The Lord of the Rings, which is significantly longer than The Hobbit, was filmed in three parts. Perhaps this means they will do less cutting of story elements.

I look forward to it. I’ll get this off my chest now: I’ll still like the book better. And I’ll add this: I’m not sure it’ll beat the nostalgic emotion I associate with the 1970s animated version of The Hobbit, which is, ironically, what got me into Tolkien in the first place. I, for one, would support the lifting of the music and soundtrack from that animated version for use in the new version.

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day,
To seek the pale enchanted gold.

Magical! (I’m imagining the low, plodding voices of the dwarves singing it in the animated version.)

As an aside, I see the DVD of the animated version of The Hobbit is available for $10.60 on Amazon.ca. When we were dating, Dixie bought it for me on VHS and paid $40.00 for it on special order (it was an AWESOME gift). Such is the way things go for Dixie and I.

[added later] By the way, judging by the reviews on Amazon, the DVD of the animated The Hobbit appears to have some serious sound issues.  The soundtrack is one of the best things about this film, so if you’re thinking of buying it (you know you are!), get the VHS version.  I can’t imagine it will make much qualitative difference anyway.

The Melon-baller

from the Incomplete Works of Marc Vandersluys

After suffocating and scalping him, the murderer scooped out the victim’s brains with a melon-baller and used it to make what would have in less gruesome circumstances been a beautiful presentation on a dinner plate, complete with a sprig of pasley and a slice of lemon. What made this crime truly diabolical was that it appears as if the killer did not have cannibalism in mind, but made the arrangement for purely aesthetic reasons.

The Camel

from The Incomplete Works of Marc Vandersluys

They call him The Camel. That moniker has an air of mystery about it, rendering its bearer somewhat exotic in the minds of those who hear it, but make no mistake: it is a most literal appellation, given because the man’s moustache enables him to go long periods of time—longer than your regular, less mustachioed cowboy—without replenishing his water supply. His moustache is so thick and bristly that it can retain large quantities of whatever the man is drinking; it is a well of sorts upon which he can draw at will by flipping his lower lip out and over the moustache and then sucking. Not a simple task, mind you, but worth the effort when fresh water is miles away.

He had been called The Walrus for a time, but that sort of name seemed more suitable for a fat banker, neither which this man is, and a large, bushy moustache isn’t an unusual sight in those parts. In fact, using one’s moustache as a sort of living, growing canteen is no less common, though The Camel’s retention was impressive in comparison to most others. No, he had that nickname when others did not for one reason alone: he was an outlaw.