Friday, April 22, 2011

Falling Glass, War and Peace, Gene Wolfe short stories

I'm just going to quote my own amazon review here...
I came to Adrian McKinty's Falling Glass after listening to the Michael Forsyth trilogy (but not having read Fifty Grand). The first thing that struck me is how much the pyrotechnics (both plotwise and stylistically) are cooled down.

In the Forsyth books, there are multiple shootouts that can end up stretching credulity; here, we have a more cat-and-mouse plot, with a lot of energy going into characters hiding out from other characters. It's a nice refreshing change, as much as I loved the Forsyth books. Killian, the hero of the novel, is no superman, and so there's a constant knife-edge of tension, since odds are, if he gets in a fight he'll lose. I also liked that not every confrontation is resolved in a gun battle; it keeps things unpredictable.

Stylistically, McKinty has cooled down as well. The earlier books have longer poetic flights of fancy, which are notably absent here, except as the occasional special effect. One major improvement is that McKinty has moved away from his too-heavy foreshadowing of the earlier novels, which keeps the tension at a higher pitch.

I'm also chugging along through War and Peace and The Best Gene Wolfe Short Stories.  Now that I'm about a third of the way through War and Peace, I'm finding it to be just a very long novel.  That sounds kind of stupid, but what I mean is that, other than being very long, it's not structurally different from other novels, the way that, say Ulysses and Infinite Jest are.  The length isn't there because Tolstoy is trying to be innovative; instead it's there to give him space to devote to the many characters he's juggling.

And it's really an incredible juggling act.  Even though I don't think I could list all the major characters without a cheat sheet, every time one comes back on stage, it feels like they're fresh in my memory; Tolstoy never lets too long a time pass between mentions of each one.  Also, each character is so vivid that I can picture them clearly, so when they re-appear, it's not hard to remember who they are.

War and Peace also has a fair bit of satire (though I wouldn't call it a satirical novel).  There's a funny bit where one commander in the Russian army is chasing another division, so that he can take command, and they keep running away.  Pierre's attempts to remedy the lot of the poor also ends up being the stuff of satire.

The Gene Wolfe stories are, as I mentioned before, a really varied lot.  Since I posted, I've read two of the more enigmatic ones, "Forlesen" and "Seven American Nights."  I'm not sure that there is a hidden layer to be discovered in "Forlesen;" it feels more like a satire on business practices, with just enough clues to keep you guessing if there's not more.  "Seven American Nights," on the other hand, is pointedly elusive.  There's a lot going on behind the scenes, with at least one night missing from the journal, references to Easter week, possible hallucinations, and so on.  I'm not sure I have a solution for the puzzle, but it's an entertaining story, even on the surface, which is always the most important thing.

No comments: