None of these were science fiction, but they still made me think about The Genre. Sense and Sensibility goes on for chapters and chapters with straight dialogue - I still feel a little displaced, days afterwards. The lack of description gave me the same feeling that most first-person stories do - I feel like I’m floating along a stream of consciousness, or in this case, a stream of dialogue.
The other thing that never ceases to surprise me when I read Sense and Sensibility is Lucy. She’s so bad. I invariably remember her as a stupid and possibly jealous girl; I forget that a significant portion of the dialogue is devoted to the verbal sparring of innocent Elinor and guilty Lucy. The trick of my memory seems to be the after-the-fact version of getting disappointed by the direction a novel takes (as with The Hemingway Hoax). I’m subconsciously rewriting Lucy in my mind.
Why do I want Lucy to be nicer, or at least stupider? I suppose I want the additional complication of Elinor’s doubt. As it stands, Elinor knows Edward loves her, not Lucy. While this is a suitable plot for the period, it is not the Form of the Love Story. Everyone knows that in a love story, the lovers must doubt one another’s love. (Edward doesn’t doubt Elinor, either.) I suppose it would at cross-purposes with the whole Sense vs. Sensibility theme for Elinor’s to be a love story proper, as it would be for Marianne’s to be a tale of endurance of misfortune. But give me a couple of years, and I’ll remember it as a love story again.
Sarah is the first of Orson Scott Card’s Women of Genesis series. I read it out of curiosity - I couldn’t appreciate the scriptural substrate of The Memory of Earth, so I thought I’d see how he treated the matriarch. The most interesting bits for me were the unfamiliar ones; judging from the afterword, those were lifted from Mormon scripture. The end, at the traditional time of Sarah’s death but without the death or the catalyst thereof, was perhaps the most interesting plot choice of the novel. I guess it’s the “hook” for the next novel - does Isaac live or die? (Resurrection always being an option, this is an open question.)
I’m not recommending Sarah, because it’s part of a genre that very few people care for - the epic novel. Someone out there was blogging about the epic and the novel - pardon me for forgetting who. It’s not a marriage that often works out. I suspect that the epic factor is what people who don’t like LotR don’t like about it. (For the epic without the novel, try the Silmarillion. For the epic novel without any redeeming literary merit, try The Eye of Argon.)
Taking the matriarchs and keeping them biblical in their virtues is not, I strongly suspect, the way to win over readers who don’t worry like Sarah about whether or not they still believe in Asherah. Card cannot humanize Sarah the way he does, say, Hagar, and so, just like in Milton, the rebel is the most sympathetic character. Better to reign in hell and all that.
Does this mean one has to be a hero to read an epic, or a saint to read Latter Day Orson Scott Card? No, not exactly - but one has to believe in heroism, or saintliness, at least for the duration. If the disbelief is strong, it will be hard to suspend, as a certain movie showed me recently.
Veronica, her roommate and I saw Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure back when it was playing in the Omni Theater at the Museum of Science. For those unfamiliar with the Shackleton Expedition, it was a failed attempt to cross Antarctica by dogsled in 1914. It was, in fact, one of the most stunning failures known to man.
This was how Shackleton advertised for his crew:
The Endurance was trapped in ice for ten months, then crushed in a thaw. The crew camped on ice floes for the next five months, until they melted, and then set sail in their liferafts. They ended up trapped on Elephant Island - just a big rock, really - for another six months. Shackleton himself set off with five men for South Georgia Island, spending seventeen days on the open sea in a lifeboat, and then landing on the wrong side and having to hike over impassable mountains to the whaler’s town on the other side. And they made it, and every last man of them survived. (Let’s not discuss the dogs, eh?)
There are a couple of reactions one can have to a story like this - I’ll call them the Epic and the Non-Epic. The epic reaction is to be blown over by the sheer heroicism of a crew who survived 21 months in the Antarctic, doing the impossible not just once but over and over again - to be proud you’re of the same species as Sir Ernest Shackleton. If you’re a writer, there’s a side of wanting to write a story like this one, on some cold moon somewhere. The non-epic reaction is to berate Shackleton for trying to cross Antarctica in the first place - “because it’s there” is not sufficient cause for non-epic types. I won’t embarrass Veronica by saying which she chose, but that she’s never finished LotR is a significant clue.