Posted on | December 30, 2016 | No Comments
Sitting down to recapitulate the year in books, I was honestly surprised to see how many I have read this year. Well, read or attempted to read, really, sometimes just flipping through an inane novella desperately attempting to be kooky and weird straight to the end to see if it gets better (it doesn’t), other times simply tossing the logorrheic brick painfully in need of a good editor on the DNF and WNF pile to be forgotten forever, brows twirling in surprise after having thoroughly enjoyed the author’s previous book. There weren’t too many such examples, but they did range far and wide, from classics people kept tsk-ing at me for, highly touted “new talent” that managed to induce death by yawnage, flaccid attempts at scientifictional pamphletting by someone who should know better, all the way to expectedly shitty books that should have been simple shitty guilty pleasures but somehow managed to fuck up a virtually unfuckuppable concept and thus excel in their shittiness.
Most of them I don’t really care about. I do, however, care when someone whose work I used to love starts pumping out these little… prose experiments, I guess, that initially sound like a good idea, but in fact deliver less and less with each new iteration. China Miéville is an author who either hits hard, or misses hard, but my latest “year in Miéville”, with Three Moments of an Explosion, followed by This Census-Taker and rounded off by The Last Days of New Paris was really one for empty and unengaging prose that is attempting… well, I’m not sure what. His writing was always political, always smart, and always tinkering with complex ideas, often with breathtaking results. However, this latest batch just seems uninspired, as if something drained all the life out of his work and just left pretty words pegged on top of “what if we cross concept X with concept Y” thought experiments written in a style that is by now so well-rehearsed as to have become a literary adjective.
On the other hand, there are phenomena I simply do not understand, such as Ted Chiang. He’s a decent enough writer – nice turn of phrase, a cute idea here and there. But all the hoo-hah over his work, all the awards, all the swooning even by people who are lightyears beyond him is leaving me mystified. I read The Lifecycle of Software Objects during the summer and found it… decent-ish. Forgettable and, well, forgotten – I had to re-read the synopsis just now to remind myself it was just a single novella, what it was about, and why it left me as cold as it did. Then, with the movie adaptation of the titular story from Stories of Your Life and Others, people once again started popping up left and right, praising his work as “the best ever”, and so, even though I should also have known better, I gave in and gave it a shot. The collection opens with a lovely story, albeit one hinging on a twist ending that I saw a mile away, possibly because I had a similar idea for a story setting, or possibly because we are both computer engineers dabbling in writing so our brainboxes tick similarly, but nevertheless, lovely story, sure. There were a few tiny gems in the collection, such as the poetic math-fiction of “Division By Zero”, but the titular story was problematic, not particularly interesting and not particularly original (for a much better treatment of a similar subject cf. last year’s The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts). To top it all off, the emotional tear-jerker moment read really crudely glued in there to, well, cause emotional engagement (for a much better treatment of a similar tear-jerking moment, cf. this year’s City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett). Some of the stories were boring rehashes of decades-old material (Understand – cf. Flowers for Algernon), some were (heh) underbaked sorta-kinda-steampunk with a religious bend that just went on too long (Seventy-Two Letters), while the final story may actually be pretty good, but I will never know, since after about half a dozen pages I found I could not continue for sheer brain-devouring boredom. All in all – farewell, Chiang, I doubt we’ll meet again.