Daily Archives: September 8, 2005

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Infodump Repetition

There’s an BBC radio gameshow called “Just a Minute”, which makes celebrities talk for one minute on a given subject without hesitation, deviation, or repetition. (Except of the name of the topic assigned, grammatical variants on a word, or common words like “is” and “the”.) It’s a fiendishly difficult game, especially with people listening and ready to pounce on any mistake.

Well, I know at least two authors who would stink like dead fish on this program. David Weber and Anne Perry. God love ‘em both. They’re good storytellers, but they will keep saying the same thing over and over, often in the exact words they used before. Admittedly, it’s said that a bestseller needs to do this for the benefit of readers who can’t remember what they first read two weeks back. But if you can’t remember it that far back, it must not be all that important or interesting.

David Weber usually repeats himself with explanations of a technology in his universe, or of a political situation. Now, I admit that it’s nice to be told or reminded about these things at the beginning. But when he cut-and-pastes this boilerplate several times in a single book, I begin to want to call him at two in the morning and leave the same message until the memory’s used up. (Yes, that would be wrong. So is what he’s doing. Fortunately, I have the artistic integrity not to try to bore the nice man to death, and I wish he had the same respect for me.)

Anne Perry, on the other hand, believes in restating the same information about forty times per novel. Now, I’ll agree that in a mystery novel, you probably should repeatedly recap the facts of the case, in order to underline the detective’s thought process and perplexity, and to make sure the reader is walking down the desired garden path. But you don’t have to repeat the facts of the case onscreen to every single person the detective interviews. Honestly, it makes me want to scream. Beyond that, we have the POV problem. Perry realllllly likes third person omniscient, which is of course a handy but underused POV. But she also likes describing every single thing a character is thinking and feeling about what he or she is saying, and about what the other person is saying. She also likes to describe every tiny muscular movement of the face and hands in excruciating detail. Needless to say, questioning a suspect takes a bloody long time. Beyond that, if one character can’t instantly perceive every thought and feeling of another character, the other character is obviously suspicious. Emotion is all. It’s enough to make you hate the most likeable characters.

It drives me nuts. I can’t read Weber anymore, unless I take him at a breakneck pace. I never could read Perry. I listen to her audiobooks, though, because an actor does give them more life, I know they take forever (a good thing when you’re listening over headphones at work), and the mystery puzzles are good if you can actually wade your way through them.

If they must summarize, I wish they’d also present new information, or give a different angle on the data each time it’s presented. Better yet, I wish they’d string it through the book instead of infodumping at all.

Now maybe I’m being oversensitive. Perhaps certain people enjoyed learning the same information over and over at school. Me, I tuned out instantly and started reading a volume of science fiction or mystery under my desk until I heard something new. I used to skim the same way. Now I have less patience, and just stop reading. After all, there are a lot of other things I could be doing with my time.

Still, there’s no reason a good editor couldn’t save us all a lot of suffering by chopping out a sentence here and there and replacing it with “Once everything was explained, they got down to business.” It would certainly be easier on trees, shelf capacity, and my sanity.

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Anti-Katrina Reading

I’ve been reading a fluffy but fun little detective series by Carola Dunn. It follows 1920′s English girl reporter (okay, girl feature writer and photographer) Daisy Dalrymple. All she wants to do is write up big old houses for Town and Country. Instead she keeps stumbling over dead bodies and having family secrets confided to her. Fortunately, she also keeps running into Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard.

It’s a bizarre little series, if you think too hard about it. The atmosphere is house party mystery, but the actual crimes are much nastier and the sex and violence explained in a more contemporary way (though the people still act like they’re in a twenties mystery novel). It’s as if Nancy Drew suddenly started investigating serial killers and finding out that her neighbors were all sleeping around or coming out of the closet. Also, if Daisy wasn’t so much fun, she’d be a Mary Sue who needed neck-wringing. And it’s just plain weird to read historical novels set in an era from which you’re used to reading contemporary novels.

But Daisy is a lot of fun, as are all her supporting characters. The 1920′s setting is well done, with many of the implicit details of your normal house party being explicitly explained. (I for one was stunned when Peter Dickinson explained how the whole backstairs thing worked in country houses, and Dunn does a good job of explaining it in action.) The novels are extremely short, too. (I can read one in about an hour.) So if you want a nice read to take your mind off things, try Carola Dunn and Daisy Dalrymple. You’ll want to read them in order, though, since there is a continuing storyline.

There are two Daisy short stories at Belgrave House. Under “Free EBooks”, click on “Short Fiction”.

Dunn also writes Regencies (which she did before her mystery gig). I read one of them from the library, Angel. It was written back in the 80′s, so it’s probably not a fair representation of the lady’s style now, but it was okay writing and entertaining enough, even if the setting was dealt with a bit self-consciously.

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Surfing Around

You know, Russian “fantastica” has some of the best covers I’ve ever seen. (Some of the worst too. And some repeats of covers for other books, which doesn’t usually happen at Western publishers anymore.)

Check out the 2003 Eksmo cover for Oleg Volkovsky’s People of Fire. Look at the liveliness of that fire. Look at how the guy actually has some weight and wasn’t made by Poser.

This novel, by the way, is just one of several recent Russian sf novels with the plot, “What if the Anti-Christ fooled people into thinking he was the Second Coming?”

I’m not as fond of this cover, though I do like the design and the little inset. But I like the premise of the main story in this collection, “The Seven Rainbow Sins”. Someone invents a device which allows you to see your neighbor’s seven deadly sins, each represented by a color. How do you keep living in a world where your secret shames aren’t secret anymore? (I’m betting the answer is frequent confession and a contrite heart… but since it’s a Russian story, I’m betting that gets to be a problem, too….)

What I really need to do is find an anthology series with a good mix of stories from throughout the last century of Russian sf/f. The problem is that Russian anthologies of this type tend to be flooded with classic stories from American and English sf/f, i.e., stories I’ve already read. This is not of course true of American anthologies, so I’m kinda stuck.

However, I do think I ought to get both volumes of Fantastica 2003, which seems to be some sort of “Best of 2001 in Russia” anthology. I have a feeling I need to get on the stick about this, since it’s already 2005!

Btw, the good news is that I found out our library’s now got a good-sized section of Russian books. (Apparently many of them were in storage until the library got more shelves.) I can probably pass on any Russian books to them with a clear conscience, so that means I can buy more Russian books! Mwha-ha-ha!

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