May 20th, 2013

Clockwork Bart

I tried. Really I did.

Almost half a decade ago, when I turned 40, vin_petrol gave me a gift at the last of my three birthday parties.

It was a book. A book called THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN Volume 1 Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe, in the Fantasy Masterworks series. You can, if you have ever met me (or probably even if you haven't), imagine how delighted I was to receive this item. Vin knew what my reaction would be, but said I shouldn't judge a book by the lumbering role player in a cloak and oddly-shaped codpiece on its cover, because it was his favourite book, and if I only gave it a chance, I would appreciate it as great literature, despite its genre.

When everyone was banging on about Game of Thrones (which just sounds like a spam email euphemism for coprophilia to me), and saying how good the telly series was, I wondered if the book Vin gave me was the book it was based on. So I dug it out and read it.

As soon as I mentioned on FB that I was reading it, Vin and steer started arguing over whether it was a fantasy novel or a sci fi novel. I think genre is irrelevent; it's just a terribly bad novel.

It is fantasy, not sci fi. It was written in the seventies and set a million years in the future, in a dystopian world that is loosely like the dark ages. Great sci fi is fascinating for what it reveals about the present in the way it depicts the future, but the future in this novel is just a tired mishmash of the past. This means the writer can use all sorts of ideas and features of the past and indulge himself in some terrible schoolboy Latin, but without any of the coherence or accuracy of a half decent historical novel.

Vin and Steer both claim it is beautifully written. It is very heavily influenced by Lord of The Rings, with the same strangulated, portentous leadenness of language. It has the same sort of 'can you guess where this came from, ooh aren't I well-read and isn't this book really, properly, intellectually serious' preoccupation with nomenclature. There is no sense of pace or urgency even in the bits that are supposed to be pacy and urgent. They are just as turgid and long-winded as the rest. It claims to be Volume 1, but it is actually two books. I'm afraid only made it through the first.

Gene Wolfe's - I bet that wasn't the name his parents gave him, by the way, I bet he was called Brian Evadne Spengler III - hero is an orphan, a torturer, has a sort of gothwish cloak of near invisibility and considerable sexual appeal and stamina. Most of the women he meets are remarkable for their near total lack of clothes and huge norks, described variously as 'two halved melons topped with cherries' or 'creamy amplitude'- I kid you not. He writes about women as if he has never spoken to one, let alone seen one naked (the blurb said he studied mechanical engineering at university).

I worked out it was't the Sport of Lavatories book pretty quickly, when I recognised the name of the author of that on the back of Book of the New etc attached to the quote 'One of the greatest science fantasy epics of all time'. It's put me right off reading anything by him, so I think my foray into 'science fantasy' is over. Unless, of course, anyone can recommend me anything of the calibre of Gormenghast.