I saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest over the last weekend and I was disappointed. Three hours of setup for the sequel, with nice special effects along the way. Ultimately disappointing.
But seeing it reminded me of a problem that I’ve detected in at least two different artistic endeavors: movie making and genre writing. It’s the problem of trilogies or series that just can’t bear the weight of three parts.
One of the dilemmas of art that I find fascinating is the conflict between entertainment and education. Should art distract us from our lives or should it try to teach us something about how our lives should be led? In between these two poles there is another way, realism. Realism just wants to imitate nature, to be the mirror we hold up to the world.
Suppose we take as a given that all fiction has a moral purpose, and that purpose may be explicit or implicit.
At this weeks SF/F reading group meeting the question was raised: what really makes a good book. So I’m trying to describe, at least to myself, the dimensions in a work of fiction that I enjoy and consider when trying to decide wheteher some book is good. So far here’s what I’ve come up with.
Sympathy and empathy for characters. There should be some connection between me and the characters of the book.
I went out for the first Wiscon dinner party this evening, even if it’s actually my second Wiscon. It’s fun to meet new people interested enough to make the pilgrimage to Wiscon. I met Rain from Ann Arbor, Kasi from West Virginia, and others. Conversations ranged through biology, science journalism, paganism, women’s studies, etc. Opening ceremonies were delayed by technical delays, once the projector was working we watched a short slide show featuring previous GoHs.
I arrived yesterday afternoon after a 7 hour drive from Ann Arbor, met up with Adrian to get the key to the room at the hostel, and then went out to dinner at an excellent Nepalese restaurant on State Street. Today Wiscon kicked into high gear with panels starting at 10 a.m. and running continuously for the next four days. I think Wiscon is the only convention I’ve attended, except for Worldcon, that can maintain such a crazy pace for four days.
On the tenth of January, I went to my first meeting of Eric Rabkin’s science fiction and fantasy discussion group. The book under discussion was Accelerando by Charles Stross.
I first encountered Stross in Asimov’s SF magazine. In fact the novel Accelerando was serialized in Asimov’s. The first story I read was ‘Tourist’, now one of the early chapters in Accelerando. I was blown away. It was some of the best short SF I’d read in a long time.
Trekked to the Har Mare Barnes and Noble this afternoon to see Bruce Sterling in personal performance. He’s on tour promoting his new book The Zenith Angle. I decided to go because he’s one of my favorite science fiction authors, part of the cyberpunk wave that broke in the 1980s and presaged a lot of the craziness that is the internet and computer technology.
Bruce (notice how the weblog medium makes it almost impossible to refer to people by anything other than their first name, Mr.
A.S. Byatt is one of my favorite writers. Initially I was disappointed to see an article in the New York Times entitled “Harry Potter and the Childish Adult” because I expected another of the long line of complaints about science fiction and fantasy taking us away from the concerns of the real world and denying us the pleasure of real fiction. Her critique skirts the territory that rejects fantasy but redeems itself by praising a few good fantasy writers such as Terry Pratchett and Ursula K.