Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Yesterday I started reading Dan Simmons's latest book Olympos, the sequel to his Trojan War epic Ilium, and today I'm on page 42 or something. I love this one as much as I loved the whole Hyperion series. This one is much funnier and a refreshing breath of air after the stink of Da Vinci.

It reminded me, too, of a thing I posted on his website's forum a few months ago. I thought I was being clever in complimenting the guy, as well as acknowledging some well-earned literary inspiration, but I was nervous. I knew Dan Simmons himself read the forum and even responded sometimes. Would he read my post and find it as clever as I did? Or would he be offended by my obnoxiousness? I never went back to see what came of it.

Until today. And low and behold...I only had one response. From Dan Simmons.

Here's my post in its entirety:

Name: James Pearce
Date/Time: 3/6/2005 1:47 PM
Subject: Blatant Thievery


I feel it is my duty to report that I am conspiring to commit wholesale literary theft. (Alright, perhaps "wholesale" is a bit hyperbolic...)

I'm going to steal a bit of your technique.

Let me explain. For months (years?) I have been hacking away at a mystery/suspense novel, pounding each attempt to a pulp until it's barely readable. Unfortunately, the problem isn't with something easy to correct, like character or plot, but instead of something more intangible and vague, something you might refer to as "voice."

The problem is that for my story, the limitations of the first person voice prove to be too limiting, and yet the third person proves too dry, too opaque.

Today, however, I had a Eureka moment and have chosen to use both, ala Endymion, Ilium, etc. My protagonist will get his say, in his voice. (Ooh, the fun to be had with that! Unreliable narrators, knowns and unknowns, the internal dialogue! Oh my!) In turn, the other characters will get their chance to leave their mark on the narrative, albeit in a less internal, omniscient way.

So get the lawyers ready and let the larceny begin.

James Pearce
Fanboy since back in the day when I was a high school kid crashing the monthly readings at the Little Bookshop of Horrors. (Whatever happened to that place anyway?)

And this was Dan's response, coincidentally with a reference to Da Vinci:

Name: dan simmons
Date/Time: 3/29/2005 9:56 PM
Subject: Dan Simmons comments --

Dear James -

I also miss the Little Bookshop of Horrors and its readings and gatherings. That was a wonderful Secret Clubhouse while it lasted.

Re: multiple viewpoints -- go to it! But be careful that you don't end up with the idiocy of . . . oh, let's say THE DAVINCI CODE . . . where the reader skips around from viewpoint to viewpoint like a grasshopper in a hot skillet, for no discernible reason whatsoever, even ending up in the Master Villain's mind for a good part of a chapter but WHERE THE VILLAIN DOESN'T SEEM TO KNOW THAT HE'S THE VILLAIN. No villainous thoughts cross his mind while we're in it, even though he's thinking about all of his own evil machinations that the good guys have presented to him. That has to be one of the most monumental cheats in the history of bad-writing cheats.

On the other hand, a true master at handling voice and viewpoints in the mystery-tough-guy genre is Donald Westlake, especially in his Parker the Thief novels (written by "Richard Stark"), in which we're in always in Parker's p-o-v for specific parts of the book, then in the bad guy's p-o-v in the middle sections. It's a brilliant handling of shifting points of view for specific plot and structural reasons.

Good luck. -- DS

For more on the "voice" aspect, you should read Endymion. An excellent book on its own, but the 3rd in the Hyperion Cantos. The book starts out in the first person, a man telling his story. But there are whole chapters and scenes told from the third person, where the main character isn't there, doesn't know what's going on. Of course in Endymion, there's a SF device to explain it all, but the actual literary technique of making multiple viewpoints like that work is something Dan Simmons excels at. In fact, he is an expert. Ilium, Endymion, Rise of Endymion, Children of Night, etc.

No one does it better than Dan. But I'm going to try.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Alright, I've had it! I'm not going to finish reading The Da Vinci Code. It's tedious. It's predictable in its cliched silliness. It's simply not plausible. So I'm giving up. I'm just not going to waste my time.

Speaking of wasting time, I retooled my website a bit. I'm going to add stuff here and there when I have more time to waste.

Jimi Hendrix always said he was discharged from the army because he hurt his ankle in a parachute jump. Turns out that wasn't neccesarily true. Kinda puts those wild outfits in perspective.

Novak's mea culpa. Ignorance. Here's a money quote:

...Novak reasserted that no CIA official ever told him in advance "that Valerie Plame Wilson's disclosure would endanger her or anybody else."

That's ridiculous. The reason that disclosure is illegal is because it could endanger the lives of CIA assets. Too bad you can't just ask Philip Agee.

Here's another great Novakism:

Novak, whose role in the investigation is unknown, has been silent on the series of events he set in motion. But he wrote about it Monday, saying he was ignoring his lawyers' advice because Harlow's account is "so patently incorrect and so abuses my integrity as a journalist."

Um, Bob, you have no integrity as a journalist. But you go, boy. Stick up for yourself. Keep writing your column and sucking up to the big boys on the right. Keep showing up on TV with your lizard-lidded eyes, flicking your tongue. People do want to hear what you have to say, although perhaps not in the way you think. They want to pick it apart and stuff it right back down your throat.