And Another Thing… (Reader Response… finale)

Well, I managed to get to the end, the end of a middle, anyway.

At the end I found the most unsatisfactory the parts which were most Douglas Adams-y. The things I found least satisfactory were the things which were least Hitchhiker’s-y. Like the plot.

The plot, you see. There was one. The weakest Hitchhiker’s books, as I recall them unread this long past decade, were the ones with the strongest plots.

Anyway, it ended about as well as anyone could reasonably expect. Everyone was separated, doing their thing. Or having their thing done unto them, depending. Fortunately, nobody… ha! I’m not spilling the beans.

So. Was it worth it? It is worth while? (These two are not exactly the same thing, of course.) Remember when Jamie Delano stopped writing Hellblazer? Same sort of thing.

And Another Thing… (Reader Response… a little bit more…)

A little bit more before the end, actually. I’m at chapter 11, just ended chapter 10 to be more accurate. Thought I’d take a pause here and mention some further thoughts on the whole thing. Before I finish, that is, and have to have a more supportable position as it were.

Not that I’ll bother supporting any position I take at the end with much more than I’m bothering with here.

Firstly, I’ve just about given up all hope that the guy I was excited to see at the beginning will turn out to be the guy I hoped he would be. Which is pretty much too bad, since I’ve missed that guy and didn’t know it until I thought he showed up again. Also, the possibility that he might be that other guy was a pretty nifty one, I thought, and as things have progressed, I’ve found myself thinking I would rather have read the book telling the story of how they could be the same guy. Or at least a story where they were the same guy. But, given where that guy actually was, the odds of them being the same guy in this story are vanishingly small. But if there are other numbers in this three-part series, maybe…

Secondly, the author does a fine job writing Hitchhiker’s-y stuff. But just about anyone of a certain age who decided to be a writer, or to play around with the idea of being a writer, went through a phase when that sort of writing seemed like a good way to go. It’s a great phase. So doing a fine job of it in an actual Hitchhiker’s book is more “Satisfactory” than “Excellent.”

However, he does a very good job writing a Hitchhiker’s book under certain circumstances. There are four major characters from the previous books who have shown up in this one. (One of them is arguably a minor character who’s been promoted, though this more accurately applies to a fifth character. There’s a sixth character who’s a middlingly important character who’s been called back into middlingly important service.) What the author does well is let these four characters have a story. Other circumstances in this book result in something weaker.

For instance, a couple of subplots took over for a while there in the middle of this book. One, a subplot involving a major character, is the latest in a now-seemingly mandatory set of setpieces, rather like Bond’s visit with Q in those movies. This subplot was pretty well done, but there are kind of a lot of scenes to it, and more than a few of them felt to run a little long. The other subplot involved a whole new set of minor characters doing their own things which bear (to this point, at least) only a tangental relationship to the plot. It’s an interesting subplot on its own, fits well into the Hitchhiker’s mileu, and the fact that it’s tangental should not be seen as a flaw. But, again, there are maybe too many scenes, and more than a few run a bit on the long side.

Which brings me to a structural criticism. I’m nearly done with the book, but I’m only through chapter 10. As I recall, the earlier books would be to about chapter 37 or 53 or so by now. The author uses breaks in the flow of the narrative–litterally breaking into the middle of a scene or dialoge exchange to insert a bit of information (or much more than a bit) from the Guide. In previous books this happened sometimes. Other times there’d be a footnote. Other times there’d be a whole chapter devoted to something like this. The shorter chapters structure added an energy to the story and to the text of previous titles which I feel is missing from this book.

There are two major characters from the previous book who we haven’t seen yet in this one. It isn’t necessary to see them in this book, so, again, their absence isn’t a flaw. The plot doesn’t seem to need them, you see, so I hope they don’t get dropped in late in the game just to be there. Of course, if they show up on the last page to help set-up another volume, that would probably be OK with me. There has been a development of surprisingly sunny proportions, and there is still a planet-shatteringly important plot element to be resolved. There is one other major character who hangs over the story. This is possibly the best part of the book–it’s not particularly funny, but it does give one of our heroes a new depth of character the author is doing a very good job with. I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops.


And Another Thing… (Reader Response, another…)

I’ve made it through a few more chapters. Things are much as they were. A minor character has returned and taken a central role in moving the plot, such as it is, forward.

And the plot, such as it is, doesn’t appear to the the plot I was looking forward to at the end of the first chapter.

At this point, it appears an awful lot of energy was put into getting our characters together, but without much effort at smoothly integrating with what came before. Nevertheless, we’re firmly in the Hitchhiker’s universe. The author never lets us forget that. Alas.

However, when the author forgets that he’s spending a lot of money to make it sound like… and settles into telling his story, that’s when it’s a good book. Not often enough, but often enough. Barely.

And Another Thing… (Reader Response, pt.1)

Who would have expected a sixth Hitchhiker’s book? Not me, and I was, as so many were, totally comfortable with five books in the trilogy. Here’s all the information you need about the book as a book you might get. I took my copy from the library.

On the other hand, it makes sense, though even still, I wouldn’t have expected another author, but rather some posthumous folderol. Nope. I’m through the first chapter, needed a sandwich, and decided to start responding now. Don’t expect a chapter-by-chapter response.

Or maybe there will be one. I read Life, the Universe, and Everything in one sitting when I was in eighth grade and bought my copy at the grocery store, after all.

The opening was a bit… hyper. Like someone really wanting to sound like… someone spent a lot of money trying to… sound like someone else. But I wasn’t hopeful in the first place.

Now, I was really irritated with the end of Mostly Harmless. If he didn’t want to write any more Hitchhiker’s books, he just shouldn’t have written any more. I felt like I’d been strung along on a writer’s exercise in disparaging the fan base. And if the point was the pointlessness of it all, well, that didn’t make things any better. I’m not interested in philosophical point-making at the expense of the story in a novel. That’s why I’m not interested in those tree killers from Ayn Rand.

But, at the end of Mostly Harmless, there were still some characters around who had a way of pulling something from the jaws of something else. Then chapter one started, and once I got my bearings, thought, “hey, that guy! Pretty cool.” Then that guy wasn’t that guy. Then I wondered if maybe that guy was really that other guy after all. Why not? It might be a bit too tidy. But it might work, since this sort of thing is similar to the sort of thing we’ve seen in other books (for instance, The Restaurant At the End of the Universe).

Then other characters were introduced, enough people were together to move the story along, that one guy who might also be that other guy was acting the way we need him to, and the beginning of a plot had been introduced along the way.

Not bad.

Reader Response: Pebble in the Sky (conclusion)

It closed almost as strong as it opened, though this bears in mind the very opening, in the science lab in Chicago, an almost throw-away scene where Something Bad Happens that sets up the rest of the story, but is never explained, or, indeed, even referred to again. That was a neat chapter, and I wish the rest of the book had been more like it.

The close was much stronger than the beginning of the story with the tailor who could just as easily been sliced in two himself rather than the rag doll. By the end of the novel one thing after another was happening. Reasonable-sounding things, from a narrative point of view, yet from the point of view of the characters, totally unreasonable. It’s not exactly that nobody was listening to each other, as nobody could quite believe that people on the other side of the issue were saying the things they were saying.

And then, after all the talk-talk, lectures, arguments (as opposed to disputes), there were scenes of torture, interpersonal vengance with violence, and a covert, unauthorised, hypnotically compelled military mission with the effect of resolving the Problem while leaving the Plot untouched. And the resolution came on quickly, in the context of the book. Of course, it had to come on quickly since there was this deadline looming. The Villian had only to keep people talking until the deadline passed. Or so he thought, never reckoning on the possibility that the Mind Reader could actually Read Minds, despite the fact that he had, himself!, been under pretty severe Mind Control.

But it all seemed so reasonable during the reading. Very Michael Crichton-y. So, am I glad I read it? Of course I’m glad I read it. It’s one of Those Books… actually, it’s just a part of one of Those Books. I’ll have to read the entire Foundation/Empire/Robot saga to really have read it. Kind of like the remaining three Lensmen books or the Known Space books. I may not overly impressed with any given part, but I look forward to being able to look back on it, to see its over all form. I’ll judge then if it was actually time well-spent.

Reader response: Pebble in the Sky (part 2)

So things have picked up a bit. Quite a bit, to be honest. A plot has emerged, and is unfolding apace. At this point it has been revealed the intent and scope of the Earthling Government, though the details haven’t been fully revealed. However, there are still too many lectures, though there seems to be a pattern to the writing style.

When elite characters talk, even to one another, they still tend to lecture to one another. Any plot development is more like a schematic of a story rather than the story itself. There’s a conversation between the high minister of Earth and his secretary. There’s a discussion between the archeologist and the high minister.

On the other hand there’s a really good discussion, from a plot and character point of view, between Schwartz and the old farmer over a chess game. Now, there is a lot of hoopde-hoo about the chess game itself. It’s neat, in a sort of abstract way, that Asimov uses an actual high-end chess match as the background for this conversation. It signals seriousness of purpose that the author would put an element into a story which works for those knowledgeable about the element to unravel. However, it remains the case that thus far Asimov’s prose contains a lot of stilted interjections demonstrating either the intelligence of the author (or injecting that intelligence into the charaters) or making unnecessary clarifications of pronouns and antecedents (clarifications better made by revising the prose).

Nevertheless, the plot, as it is unfolding is an interesting one, and the characters, when they’re allowed to breath without Asimov pushing them around with his descriptions of their actions, are sympathetic. I care about them, what’s going one, and what’s going to happen. I look forward to seeing what’s next.

Pebble in the Sky initial thoughts…

So. Inspired by a question over at TrekWeb about the best order to read the Empire/Foundation/Robot books, I’ve decided to finally give this a go in the order of initial publication. Last night I started reading Pebble in the Sky, and got about three chapters into it. I expected a larger book, and I expected something different from what I gotten so far from the story.

Which isn’t to say I had any very solidly-formed expectations. Such expectations as I had were formed, I’m sure, twenty-odd years ago seeing a line of thick sci-fi paperback novels packed on the shelves in the basement of a friend. This visual, along with some modest discomfort at the idea of reading something purporting to deal with a galactic empire and something called a “foundation” probably kept me from these books all this time. It was just too much. I knew Asimov was a Big Deal Author, and had enjoyed “I, Robot” but just wasn’t ready for what I expected to be a big commitment. Then for years and years I just didn’t have much tolerance for fiction.

Like any of that matters.

So, here are my initial thoughts. Given the publication history, I’m going to assume that Larry Niven was profoundly influenced by Asimov, since I felt like I was reading something by the author of Ringworld. Early this year I re-read All the Myriad Ways, and last month read Ringworld. When I wasn’t reading Asimov twenty-odd years ago, I was reading a bunch of Known Space stuff, but I don’t think I ever read Ringworld.

Again, so what? So what is this. This sort of science fiction, maybe it has a category name, is like reading a lecture punctuated with bits of insider knowledge masquerading as levity. I found this especially true in the opening chapter when the tailor tries to figure out if his experience is a dream. Also, the initial conversation between the archaeologist and governor smacked of the Author Lecturing. Possibly the information needed introduction when the book was initially published.

On the other hand, maybe not. In the second chapter we are introduced to the world and culture of Earth in the future. This was done through characterization and dialog, and done effectively. As a reader I felt immersed in a world I didn’t understand, but which was effectively introduced and by the end of the chapter I felt both that the plot had advanced in a meaningful way and the world had been illuminated somewhat.

More when I’ve read more.