Orion Reads
a diary of books etc.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

the need to buy it

Jennifer loaned me Peter Verhelst's Tonguecat. It's apparently a sort of magical realism and fantasy. Which fantasy and sci-fi are absolutely not J's cup of tea, and even tho she knew tonguecat is fantasy she somehow decided to go for it, even tho i've been pushing fantasy/sci-fi books at her without even a glimmer of acceptance for years now. Anyhow. So indeed she couldn't read it and passed it on to me. I'm probably not going to read it either because the first or second page contains a passage so entirely off-putting that i feel a bit ill. Here's the passage: (describing a sister & brother huddled together for warmth in a freakishly cold winter)
... I watched my breath curl up into a plume. Two heads protruding from a blanket pitched around us like a tent. Breathe in, breathe out. His shoulder blade against my spine.
"What's happening?" he asked.
I shrugged.
"Look," he said, scraping a frost flower off the windowpave. At that same moment he screamed, and with that scream the house came alive. My mother had to use boiling water to separate my brother's finger from the frost flower. A fingerprint of matter, red glass was left on the windowpane.
- Now this may not initially seem so offensive, except that it just doesn't ring true. Here is an author writing about things which he has no experience with.
1. your fingers/tongues only stick to cold things when they're *wet*. The boy had been shivering in bed. His fingers were dry. His fingers simply would not have stuck to the pane. This scene could Never Happen.
2. when your finger or tongue freezes to something cold, you don't scream. It doesn't particularly hurt. You spend several seconds just figuring out what's going on. And you don't scream. Even a kid doesn't. It's too bizarre an experience to even register as Trouble. I did get my tongue frozen to a very cold thing (a pot full of dry ice & acetone) as a kid (tho not a child) and had to use hot water to get it off, and panic only sets in after a while and terror or horror remain absent.
3. the fingerprint. you *might* leave some tissue on the pane if you simply rippingly pulled away, but his mom used Hot Water. it solves the problem. you just don't leave a red fingerprint. it simply isn't Done.

If you want a *good* literary passage about body parts freezing to icy windows, check out the section in Infinite Jest where Stice's forehead is frozen to a lonely dormitory lounge window. (circa page 867)

So, we've got a passage here which simply could never happen in reality, and while it is a fantasy novel, this passage is not intended as fantasy. If i were ignorant of the feasability of freezing a finger to a lousy frosty window pane, then maybe this scene wouldn't bother me. This is a curious feeling, that of "if i were just a bit dumber, i'd like this book", and i often wonder how many books i've liked only by the grace of being sufficiently dumb.

So, peter, your chances with this one and me are pretty slim.

While i'm at it, i may as well give some advice to future writers of science-fiction: Unless you actually are a scientist and you Know you know whereof you speak, keep the technical details to an absolute minimum. Nobody cares about them anyway. Just ask the reader to believe that humans eventually evolve a triple-lobed brain, *don't* explain how it happened with your shoddy understanding of mendelian genetics or what have you. Double for space-technology, and septuple for computer technology. If you aren't a computer bad-ass, don't get technical. And if you are a computer bad-ass and do want to get technical, take a second a consider your audience. You're going to bore the normal folks to tears with what they don't care about and can't follow, and you're going to bore the geeks to tears with what they don't care about.

I think this reading blog is me at my most critical. Shame to say, but i feel kinda liberated in here.

Have finished Koba the Dread, and need some time before writing anything about it. I'll just say that i want to send it to pretty much everybody i know.

Am reading at random thru Isabelle Eberhart's The Oblivion Seekers, which is pleasant.


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