Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Tough World on the Stupid Little People

It has taken me quite a long time to finish the novel I'm currently reading, although I am in no hurry to finish, even though I'm 50 or so pages away. I'm fond of long novels because I want the author to take his or her time building the characters, and all that shit. If a character is ham-handedly crammed into the story to bug the protagonist, or the antagonist, or whomever, and is poorly fleshed-out, I drop the book and move on. It's acceptable for a "B" movie, but not a novel.

Ever since I read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo many years ago, even before I opened my peepers to Vonnegut, I'd gotten into the habit of reading every chapter twice before moving on. Hugo's massive digression to the Battle of Waterloo had me baffled at the time; I was 14 or so. Not that my age has a damn thing to do with it, because it's a famous literary digression which most people react to the same way ("What the fuck?"). So I read the Waterloo chapter twice, to make sure Valjean or Cosette weren't hiding behind a cannon, or something. Now I do it all the time. Those people who read a novel every other day have my admiration, but I wonder how much they absorb. My mother used to do that, mostly pulp crime novels of the sort that are so perpetually popular. She read so many of them that she would sometimes buy one and then later realize that she had already read it. It reminds me of the Woody Allen quote about "speed-reading." He said, "I just read War and Peace. It's about Russia."

But some people manage to read fast and retain everything. They are called, "smart" and not nearly as common as most people believe. Most people, as you may already know, are nincompoops, boobs and/or dimwits. I'm not any of those things, but I do have my head up my ass. Fortunately for most of us, the Universe suffers fools as well as anyone else.

After The Terror I'm going to hit another Dan Simmons novel. I really dig the historical fiction genre, like The Alienist by Caleb Carr and Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

Isn't that nice?

Anyway, Apocalypse Cow left a comment about the previous post, about an atheist soldier in the US military. What he wrote reminded me of Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus. Regarding atheists in foxholes, Vonnegut writes:

The sermon was based on what [the Chaplain] claimed was a well-known fact, that there were no Atheists in foxholes. I asked Jack what he thought of the sermon afterwards, and he said, "There's a Chaplain who never visited the front."
-- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Hocus Pocus


Apocalypse Cow said...

I'm not familiar with most of Dan Simmons' writings, but I have read Ilium and Olympus, and I'd be interested to hear your take.

I consider myself fairly well read, and i understood most of the literary and mythical references, the science, and the science-fiction of it all. It just didn't gel for me. But maybe I was missing something.

Darren W. Lyle said...

I urge you to check out The Terror, which I just finished. It's a library book, or I'd give it to you.

I was leaning towards "Ilium."