Saturday, March 14, 2009

Reading redux

So it wasn't just the James Herbert books that I brought back from the visit to my mum. And over the last few weeks I've been re-reading a few of them. What I find amazing is how present to my memory they all are. Just looking at the covers I can call up names, places and incidents from all of them - though I haven't cracked the covers of any of them for more than a decade. It makes me realise how influential they were on me. The downside is that I'm spotting lots of the tropes that I use popping up in these texts. Hmm. Anyhoo.

Harry Harrison - most of the Stainless Steel Rat series. Still very enjoyable - though very light. The breezy style and insouciant charm of slippery Jim DiGriz sweeps each tale along but what I notice now is what escaped me back then. Even now I can remember

The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World - Cove...Image via Wikipedia

reading the first page of The Stainless Steel Rat in Miss Ellison's class when I was 10? 11? She gave it to me, Nick Dodd, Mark Sanderson and Des (?) as part of a lesson on different sorts of writing. We all hated Miss Ellison as she closed her eyes whenever she said a word with an "s" in it. I'm not sure why that made us hate her but it did.

What I loved back then was the radical feel of the thing and the sheer confidence that Jim oozed; but now I see how adept HH was at using that style to skip over the holes in the plot and bamboozle the reader.

What is also fascinating is its attitude to technology. For instance, in The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted when Jim and his sidekick need to record some video ready for broadcast they go to a TV studio and use the equipment there. Now, of course, it'd be done with a camera on a phone or a web cam and posted online - etc etc. It shows exactly how stories of the future are mired in the present of their creators. But that's also quite liberating because it was never supposed to be THE FUTURE simply a future which means that pretty much anything goes.

William Gibson - Count Zero. Such a great read. Better, by far, than I remember. Just astonishing in places and so dense with ideas and insights. Now that the net is everywhere some of the supposed changes it documents make it looks a little dated.
- No cellphones.
- Using the net involves travelling to places.
- Rampant AIs
- Gods in the net
I had a sense when I was reading it that I was missing something that would become clear as I got older. Well, I am and its not. I guess I'm just too thick to catch on.

Terry Pratchett
- The Colour of Magic/Light Fantastic. My good friend Carl Berks recommended the first one to me when I was 15/16. I met him via a gaming group that I joined. Reading it again I remember the "watcher-of-the-skies-new-planet" feeling I got having read it. It was also much funnier than I remember. And the Discworld portrayed in the first two books is very different to what it becomes later on in the series. Death is murderous in these books, the Gods are much more present and there are lots of standard fantasy wallpaper to bulk out the story.
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