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Bookworm 2013: Not Quite Right

Posted on | December 26, 2013 | No Comments

Occasional excursions outside the genres are good for vigor, but on average, for every Ulysses or To the Lighthouse, I run across one Hunger by Knut Hamsun or The Man Who Was Thursday  by G.K. Chesterton. These two are books (as I’m told) that were once revolutionary and brought something thoroughly new into the craft of writing, but they have aged horribly (and with Hunger, the quality of translation could have contributed to this), and are only readable as historical artifacts – the naivete of the stories (with Thursday, the grand twist is obvious from the start; with Hunger, there is no plot to speak of, and the extremely irrational actions of the main character kill all traces of empathy) is followed in lockstep with the deprecated style, thus maintaining interest, even in such short reads, a real chore.

Erlend Loe - FvonkThe experience with recommendations is also flaky, although occasionally I discover something incredibly beautiful like City of ThievesI am equally likely to end up in something that leaves me thoroughly indifferent, like Fvonk by Erlend Loe. Once again, the translator may be to blame, or perhaps even the cultural differences and the need for constant footnotes – Norwegian culture is not as familiar to us as the culture of the US we are bombarded with every day, but all the while I felt indifferent, and could, well, see the cogs move behind the stage. The end of the book wraps the story up in rather rude and crude fashion, further emphasizing the pointlessness of the entire exercise.

Jonathan Strahan - Engineering InfinityThis situation with books that are not really bad as such, but are made such by their form or presentation, is perhaps most evident in poorly selected short story collections. Engineering Infinity edited by Jonathan Strahan brings together hard-SF stories from a variety of authors, and whether this is due to a dearth of quality writing in this sub-genre, or Strahan truly believes this selection to showcase the best, the quality of the stories oscillates wildly, from the brilliance of Watts’ Malak or Stross’ Bit Rot, to some, well, not so brilliant stories. The fact that many of them aren’t, in fact, hard-SF in a collection that is expressly supposed to be comprised of the same isn’t helping things at all.

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  • Goodreads

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