Tuesday, June 22, 2010

hat still in hand

Finished a couple more books! Add Light Boxes and Homunculus to the "read" pile, and not a moment too soon. I've got a lot of stuff to finish, and of course I keep accumulating more books because I have a problem.

I really enjoyed Light Boxes; complex and unsettling imagery was created from very simple words and structure, and I didn't get the sense, as some reviewers did, that it was precious or pleased with itself. I'll concede that there was some kitsch appropriation in the writing, but so what? That's totally fine as long as you do something cool and thoughtful with it. More to the point, Light Boxes occupies that weird space of not being a dense literary tome or an effortless popcorn book - it's somewhere else on the spectrum. It's a short book, with lots of white space in the layout, but the language and sensory images are challenging. And it's nice to see otherworldly settings celebrated in a literary scene that's often too obsessed with understated, detached realism.

Homunculus is another matter. It's an early work of steampunk and a Philip K. Dick prizewinner, but it's also way too busy and cluttered with neat ideas (secret societies, religious doomsaying, a dirigible piloted by a skeleton, etc.) that aren't developed enough. A lot of steampunk fiction does this. It took a while to get going, which is fine, and the language streamlined into less of a hyperactive Dickens homage as the plot progressed, but I didn't feel like the central characters really changed anything. That said, the often-confusing plot still kept me gladly turning pages to see where it went, and one character (the shiftless and high-strung Bill Kraken) went against type into interesting territory. So I can't say that I didn't like it. I can actually say that, warts and all, it was an enjoyable read. But it was also frustrating because of its pulpy, self-imposed genre limitations.

That said, I've got some ideas rattling around for a few steampunky yarns. I've also got a fun little book project, tentatively called Gouts of Angry Mist, coming together. More on that as it develops.

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