Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Didn't Make the Cut: Orson Scott Card

So, once again been culling the shelves downstairs in the box room, pulling off some books that I think I can live without. Some of these are books I read once that I can't imagine needing to read again (like Beckett's WAITING FOR GODOT, or MERCIER AND CAMIER, or his STORIES AND TEXTS FOR NOTHING*), or ones I can readily enough find again in libraries or as ebooks, shd I ever need to refer to them again (like Zelazny's AMBER books**), or ones I tried reading and cdn't get more than a few pages into (like Atwood's THE HANDMAIDEN'S TALE), or ones I bought intending to read but never got around to (like Brown's THE DA VINCI CODE or Mieville's PERDIDO STREET STATION).  Some books I'm reading (or re-reading) before getting rid of. Sometimes the decision is hard -- not so much from the book's content as from the circumstances in which I bought it. I usually write my name and the date on the inside front cover of any book I buy (something I learned from my father, who never wrote on the flyleaf or first page), and sometimes add some additional information about who I was with and what the occasion was. Hence just having the book reminds me of that occasion, which may slip from memory forever without that reminder. But there are just too many books in boxes, too many I'll never get around to, that it's time to find new homes for, though it'll be a slow process, no doubt in many stages.

One set of books I'd have expected to be a hard decision turned out to be surprisingly easy: Orson Scott Card's ALVIN MAKER series. This had started out promisingly enough, with SEVENTH SON [1987] and its weird idea of evil water (that is, water is the evil force throughout the universe, the embodiment of entropy), but peaked early with RED PROPHET [1988]'s recasting of the events of the Shawnee Prophet and Tecumseh's attempt to rally all native peoples against the threat of extermination by the white settlers. Card's alternate history was intriguing, mainly because he didn't make the mistake of trying to explain it but let the reader look at the alternate-US/colonies map and work things out from that and passing references. Plus, he deserves credit for writing one of the few works of fantasy to deal with our horrific treatment of native Americans.

We did this one as one of our discussion books for the Burrahobbits not long after it came out, and as I recall we liked it well enough, though even Card admits Wm. Henry Harrison was not so purely evil as O.S.C. makes him in this book. But I was really bothered by Card's treatment of Wm Blake, whom he makes an appealing figure but at the cost of making him utterly unlike the real man whose name he shares. For me, it's a cardinal sin for a writer to incorporate a real-world figure in his or her fiction and not to have the fictional character share anything with the original except the name and one or two cursory traits.

But it was with the third book, PRENTICE ALVIN [1989], that the wheels came off the bus. In this book we learn that slavery is bad, Xians are bad, Southerners are bad, and and Xian Southern slave-owners are unspeakably bad. The jarring shift from story to polemic pretty much ruined the work, and during the long gap that followed before the next book came out [six years], I completely lost interest in how the series might ultimately come out, other than to hope vaguely that the characters all died horribly (not a good sign). I see now, courtesy of Wikipedia (Source of All Knowledge) that there have been three more novels since I gave up on the series, which still isn't finished yet (making R. R. Martin's failure to wrap up a much more ambitious and complex series that started almost a decade later seem quite reasonable, in context). By now it's more than twenty years since I read these three books, and now so much time has passed that I'd have to re-read the earlier books before I cd read the later ones. Even if I'd liked the series as a whole, I'd be hesitant to read what's out so far, lest Card abandon the series (again) and leave his readers hanging (again). No thanks.

And, speaking of interminable series that never seem to end, I see that the fourteenth and supposedly final book in the WHEEL OF TIME series is now out. Given that this has become the epitome of the bloated, endless, please-make-it-stop fantasy serial,***  can we make them take an oath on that "final", done at last, there-will-be-no-more part?

--John R.

*did keep ENDGAME, though, the only one of his plays I actually liked.

**though here too I did hang on to a magazine with a short story that wd have been the start of his third AMBER series, had he continued with it, since I think it'd be harder to replace if I ever decided to read an Amber book again (unlikely).

***although not without being out some serious competition, like Edding's double-quintology. At least Donaldson's trilogy of trilogies has definite stopping points between the trilogies where the reader can down tools and disembark if he or she is so inclined. And Tad Williams' MEMORY SORROW AND THORN, while grotesquely bloated, does tell a complete story in three very long volumes.


Brer said...

Why not simply make a scan of the inscription and then sell the book?

Magister said...

I think you should give Perdido Street Station a chance before getting rid of it.

John D. Rateliff said...

I've done so on some, but of course it's easier to keep track of a book than a piece of photocopy paper.

Too late!
I'd still like to read this one someday -- his collection of short stories was quite interesting -- but for now it's just taking up place on the shelf. Luckily it'll be easy to find another copy if the need occurs somewhere down the line.

--John R.

Robert said...

How many Wheel of Time books have you read? Is a work being a particular length that to which you object, or is there some other reason that you dislike it?

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Robert
I read the first book (THE WHEEL OF TIME) in full. I'm not put off by a long book -- witness my devotion to THE LORD OF THE RINGS -- but I'm annoyed by books that are needlessly long, like the Tad WIlliams.
In Jordan's case, he had a good idea (the tainting of men's magic) but cdn't remain focused on the main story. Plus his characters suffer from plot disease: they do things that don't make sense, because the story wd stop if they did the obvious and sensible thing.

By the way, Holdstock's THE BONE FOREST and three short works by Le Guin have now joined the pile.