Friday, June 25, 2004

Just a few weeks ago, the Anchorage Daily News was running front page headlines about how the 9/11 commission found no link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda.

Today, on page 8 was a small article about connections between Iraq and Al-Qaeda.

The editorial policy at the ADN is obviously:
Bad for Bush = Front Page Headlines.

Good for Bush = to provide balance, we'll stick it somewhere obscure in the paper where most people won't notice it.

I am only in Alaska for the summer, so I will be returning to my PhD program in mid-August. However the local papers there are even worse than the ADN here in Alaska.

The Media (and this includes Fox News as well) needs to give up it pretensions to objectivity and just inform readers that they hate Bush (or in the case of Fox News, think he might be okay).

Here's a great article about the NY Times doing something similar.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Just finished The Knight by Gene Wolfe.

That man is a genius. There are two things I admire about Gene Wolfe's ability as an author:

First, he can create unique vocal patterns and vocabularies (idiolect for those who are linguistically minded) for each of his characters. In comparison, Orson Scott Card (one of my other favorite authors) has admitted that he makes only cursory attempts to make narrators and characters sound any different than his own voice. Gene Wolfe created fully realized and rich characters who have all the aspects of unique individuals.

Second, he creates worlds that are truly alien and weird. I enter a universe created by Gene Wolfe, and all my reference points disappear. There are few attempts to explain the science behind his world and very little discussion of the culture and history that make up the backdrop for his tales. I find myself floundering, looking for reference points that allow me to anchor the text, and they are few and far between.

Hal Clement created alien worlds (A Matter of Gravity being the most famous one, though Iceworld did a good job of portraying Earth as an alien world) but he always explained it in terms an average reader could grasp. Robert Jordan has a richly detailed fantasy world in his Wheel of Time books, but he can spend pages describing the reasons behind a certain fashion in Ebou Dar or courting rituals in the Two Rivers area.

Gene Wolfe does none of that. The worlds are as rich, detailed and complex (sometimes more so) as any other fantasy or science fiction author, but Gene Wolfe does not wallow in this.

Orson Scott Card once wrote (and he was of course riffing off theorists in lit crit - but OSC has an MA in English) that no matter how hard an author tries, he will always give away what culture and time period he lives in. To give an example, he used Heinlein's famous line "the door irised."

OSC said that "the door irised" was a brilliant line because it revealed that the story took place in a different time and place than where we the readers live, and all without having to blatantly inform the reader of this case. This was the beginning of embedded and implicit exposition, rather than the often explicit, didactic and boring "information dumps" early science fiction suffered from.

However, OSC went on to declare, that very line reveals the author lives in a time and place where doors DO NOT "IRIS." That is because someone from a time period where it was normal for doors to iris would merely write " he went through the door" or "the door opened." Only someone who came from a time and place where doors did not iris would think of mentioning that fact.

That is where the genius of Gene Wolfe comes in. While he cannot avoid this problem totally, he does avoid this better than any other author of science fiction or fantasy. His narrators assume things we would not. They mention going through doors, but it is only through careful reading that the reader could ever discover that the doors irised or phased out or imploded.

In Wolfe's Book of the New Sun,Severian never mentions that the towers his guild lives in is an old abandoned ship. He may not even be aware of it. The fact he lives on the South American continent is also something that he never mentions or may even be aware of. To Severian the tower is merely the place he was raised, and the South American continent is merely the land over which he travels. The careful reader can pick up little clues here and there, but Wolfe explains nothing for the reader.

The Knight is a little different in that the narrator claims to be a youth (age unspecified) from America (time unspecified as well, though likely modern). However, this youth in the body of a man has apparently lived in this fantasy world he accidentally stumbled upon that he is unable to or unclear exactly how to explain everything that is going on.

Frustratingly, the narrator skips over the "good stuff" - fierce battles are usually described in retrospect and a lot of time is devoted to things like polishing and oiling armor and weapons.

Beyond all that, the plot is buried underneath everything that Able (the narrator) writes about. Able recounts various events that happen to him, but these events obscure and hide the real plot. I haven't figured out what the underlying plot might be yet, but Wolfe once again has me hooked. When the sequel The Wizard comes out next year, I'll be reading it. You should to.

Even if you happen to be one of those snooty English majors who eschews genre fiction. Wolfe is the most literate science fiction and fantasy author out there

This may be blasphemy, but Wolfe is better than Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. - an author who really doesn't deserve all the critical attention he has received. It's my own opinion, but I have always found Vonnegut/Kilgore Trout to be overrated. Not bad - he is a good author - but merely overrated.

If I get even one person to read Gene Wolfe because of this post, I can die a happy man. Though I would still prefer to live a few more decades anyway.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Boy. I really need to post more

Well, the semester is over and I am working in Alaska for the summer. In August school wills tart up again, so I may have more horror stories to tell then.

But for the summer I may just start spending more time writing mini-essays on just what direction I would like to see English studies go in, my teaching philosophy or the election. Or whatever I may feel like talking about.

Only work is taking up my time now. OF course the work is sporadic. Some days I have no work and others I have a 16 hour day. Either way it pays well.

Expect at least a post a week for this summer (starting next week, of course).

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