A Certain Lack of Focus

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sorta like a Review(s)

In the last couple of weeks I have read: Dune by Frank Herbert, Fledgling by Octavia Butler, and The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor.
Now, I'm sure it's astonishing that, as someone who claims to be a fan of Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and furthermore, wants to write in that genre, I have never read Dune. I should explain an oddity of my personality: When someone recommends a book to me, I will avoid it for years and years and years. I'm not entirely sure why this is, but I usually blame it on my mother, who told me I should read Gone with the Wind, and my dismay when I actually followed her advice. Anyway, this explains why I didn't read The Lord of the Rings until college and why I only picked up Dune a couple weeks ago. I don't think Dune really needs my support, but I should say that I was happily surprised.
I have always been intimidated by Sci Fi because of the harder science parts which usually just bore me. In an effort of... I dunno self improvement I guess, I've been trying to get over the fear by reading some of the best books in the field. I've been going through the Nebula and Hugo winners. Now, while I've so far enjoyed every book I've read on the list, I've noticed that sometimes the stories don't seem to be quite as good as I'd expect. Often the endings are unsatisfying... and not in that literary ambiguous way, more in the way that indicates that the author didn't really even notice that he/she had neglected to end the book. I get the feeling that the standards are slightly different for story construction in Sci-Fi. I'm ok with this... the stories ARE still entertaining after all... and I don't have enough of an English background to truly believe that there need be any greater purpose to a story than entertainment.
But on top of this, I'd been warned, several times, about how SLOW Dune is. I am not a patient reader. I want to be hooked right away.
Now, while there are sections in Dune that have a great deal of descriptive detail and political explanation, I'm not sure where it could be called slow. I thought Dune was as well paced as anything I've read. The characters were strong and sympathetic, even when you wanted to slap them (mostly Jessica). Paul, is essentially... what? A god? A superhero? Well Herbert calls him a prophet, but the character does reach supernatural levels, and yet the story never gets unbelievable. I also loved how present the desert was, it was really a separate character.
The only criticism I can offer is that I was often confused by the number of different characters. Mostly, I was trying to figure out who was supposed to be alive, (who was actually alive), who was really dead and who was only supposed to be dead. In all fairness, there is an extensive (and apparently famous) appendix. Unfortunately I have hated appendixes ever since I got to the end of Fellowship of the Ring, with a good 50 pages remaining and turned to page to find: "Maps." I nearly screamed, "you've got to be f*cking kidding me, that's it?" Anyway, I ignore them on principle now. However, in Dune the confusion never reached the point of annoyance, if I wanted to know badly enough who was being spoken of, I'd flip back until I found out. For the most part though, I was able to accept the confusion as part of the story.
I think the best indication of how well written the story was is that when I came to the ending, I really couldn't guess whether Herbert was willing to kill off Paul or not. I always count it as a mark of success when I'm not sure whether the main character will live or die.

So, for what it's worth, that's what I thought of Dune, reading it for the first time at the age of 25. Tomorrow, if I get the chance, I'll review Fledgling and The Looking Glass Wars, both of which are far more recent releases than Dune.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Little Rant

Who the hell kills Amish people? I mean, school shootings are screwed up to begin with, shooting children (teens whatever) is evil period, whatever religion you belong to. But this isn't just kids, this isn't just the normal suburban defenseless, these are Amish kids. Talk about people who've never done any harm to anyone. Its never justifiable, but I don't understand how the most diseased mind can come up with any reason to do this.
I'm twenty five, so my high school years were during the height of school shootings- by students. I grew up in Eugene, Oregon, twenty minutes from Springfield: the site of the Thurston shooting. One of my classmates was a playmate of Kip Kinkle when they were little kids, and another went to prom with a girl who was shot in the head. I take school shootings personally. But you know, as tragic as Thurston and Columbine were, and those were truly horrible things, I sort of get it. I remember being a teenager, and anyone else who remembers knows the truth of this statement: teenagers are freaking nuts. No, that doesn't justify their actions, by any means, but I find it a lot easier to at least understand what went wrong, when a mixed up, unhappy sixteen year old goes postal, next to a THIRTY TWO YEAR OLD MAN, who shoots a bunch of Amish kids, as REVENGE for something that happened to him twenty years ago.
I mean, obviously, these guys are also nuts. But what really bothers me, is why are all these people crazy? High school angst I get, what's going on, what's in the water? Our society has a lot of problems, but what is it that makes people decide that it's ok to kill other people?

More Waiting

I sent in my entry to the last quarter of Illustrators of the Future on Friday, just barely squeaking in before the September 30th deadline. (Postmarked, not received) I'm still waiting for the results of the third quarter's Writers of the Future contest. Right now I'm sort of working on a novel, but I haven't got much of an attention span so I don't know if I'll ever finish it. So far I do much better with short stories, but the older I get, the more possible a novel seems. We'll see how this one goes. I'm also working on illustrating a comic for my independent study... it's not going as quickly as I'd like, but I've left plenty of space for procrastination (my favorite study habit) so hopefully I can at least get the mandatory first ten pages finished-nice and the rest nicely laid out. Next semester I'm hoping to take an illustration class with the same guy who's doing the independent study with me. It's fairly time consuming compared to what I'm used to right now (I've gotten out of the habit of three hour studio classes) but I think it would be good for me and I'm hoping (hoping) that most work would be completed in class. I'll have to take a look at my other options and see how this might fit in.