Sequel

As a sequel to my last post, I have received a charming and delightful email from a person who informs me that I am a ‘miserable fool’, that I am suffering from spiritual pride and need to turn to the Lord, and that the only way to do that is to do exactly as he, the writer of the email, commands. But it is I, you see, not he, who suffers from pride.

As a further balm to the wounded spirit, he offers this gem:

As for fiction, you haven’t enough broad and intense experience to ever convey the kind of depth and originality to the fantasy field (or any other) that makes for greatness or popularity.

I shall not reply to him in person; I have dealt with this character before; his eyes, ears, and mind are closed to everything and everyone, as far as I can tell, and the only thing he pays attention to is the din inside his own head. But I reply to him at large and in public, in the words of C. S. Lewis from The Pilgrim’s Regress:

But how can you help me after removing the only thing that I want to be helped to? What is the use of telling a hungry man that you will grant him his desires, provided there is no question of eating?

I put it to the 3.6 Loyal Readers – just in case I should be missing a jewel in a dunghill; I do not want to dismiss advice without a hearing. Is this man right, and I should give up writing fiction?

Narrative fatigue

A personal plaint.

According to that fearsomely encyclopaedic source, TV Tropes, a story, any story, is dead from the moment the audience utters the Eight Deadly Words: ‘I don’t care what happens to these people.’ This is a specific instance of a larger class of story-killers, which I propose to call narrative fatigue. Some other forms that it may take:

  • ‘I know what is going to happen to these people, and I’m not enjoying the ride enough to stay till the end.’ My reaction to any fiction by David Eddings. Other writers tried to waste my time with predictable stories. Eddings bragged about it in the text itself.
  • ‘I care what happens to these people, but I’ve lost all faith that I will ever find out.’ One of many possible reasons to give up on A Song of Ice and Fire.
  • ‘I care about these people, but nothing that is happening to them makes any sense.’ The #1 pitfall of magic realism.
  • ‘The things that are happening make sense, but the people themselves don’t.’ The #1 pitfall of those ‘slice of a Manhattan neurotic’s life’ stories so beloved of The New Yorker.
  • ‘I’d like to find out what happens, but I don’t want to work this hard for it. Cliff’s Notes, please?’ The #1 pitfall of self-consciously ‘literary’ exercises in stylistic weirdness.
  • Perhaps the worst killer of all: ‘It’s blatantly obvious that nothing is ever going to happen to these people.’

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C. S. L. on entertainment

If entertainment means light and playful pleasure, then I think it is exactly what we ought to get from some literary work – say, from a trifle by Prior or Martial. If it means those things which ‘grip’ the reader of popular romance – suspense, excitement and so forth – then I would say that every book should be entertaining. A good book will be more; it must not be less. Entertainment, in this sense, is like a qualifying examination. If a fiction can’t provide even that, we may be excused from inquiry into its higher qualities.

—C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

I am at the moment laid up with a bad case of viral bronchitis, so close to pneumonia that it took an X-ray for the attending physician to tell the difference. My essai in progress (and almost finished), on the inclusion of Mervyn Peake’s grotesque satires, Titus Groan and Gormenghast, in the fantasy genre, is therefore up on blocks in the yard, covered with a tarpaulin. It will have to wait until I am more lucid to finish it. Many other projects are also behind hand; I am too keenly aware of them for my own comfort. Meanwhile, I am trying to make some constructive use of my illness by re-reading some thought-provoking books, including the one quoted above – which my Beloved Other kindly found for me today, after I had long believed my copy lost.

I beg your kind indulgence for the delay.

G. K. C. opens the cruellest month

Today would have been my father’s ninetieth birthday. He expected to live to see it; many of his close relations had lived that long, or close to it; he was in robust physical health till his mind gave way. But a house untenanted falls sooner into dilapidation, and I had to say my goodbye to him more than two years ago.

Because the first of April was, for our family, the date of a celebration not fitly met with mockery, I have never gone in for April Foolery myself; though I can appreciate a good jape when performed by a genuine artist.

This, for instance:

‘G. K. Chesterton on AI Risk’

The followers of Mr. Samuel Butler speak of thinking-machines that grow grander and grander until – quite against the wishes of their engineers – they become as tyrannical angels, firmly supplanting the poor human race. This theory is neither exciting nor original; there have been tyrannical angels since the days of Noah, and our tools have been rebelling against us since the first peasant stepped on a rake. Nor have I any doubt that what Butler says will come to pass. If every generation needs its tyrant-angels, then ours has been so inoculated against the original that if Lucifer and all his hosts were to descend upon Smithfield Market to demand that the English people bend the knee, we should politely ignore them, being far too modern to have time for such things. Butler’s thinking-machines are the only tyrant-angels we will accept; fate, ever accommodating, will surely give them to us.

(Hat tip to Nancy Lebovitz for mentioning this jewel in the comment box.)

Sad news

My recently adopted cat, Sonny, had a mild viral infection in his eye when we brought him home from the SPCA. Eye a bit watery, a bit of clear discharge accumulating at the corner, a bit of redness: nothing to worry about, we thought.

Only it didn’t clear up. On (telephoned) veterinary advice, we administered antibiotic eye drops, in case there was a secondary bacterial infection. These did not help at all; and over the course of about three days, Sonny’s condition grew dramatically worse. By the time we could get him to the vet in person, his eyeball was ulcerated and the aqueous humour was beginning to leak out. (It seems a secondary bacterial infection had set in and proceeded with unholy speed.) An operation that might save his eye was possible, but would cost about $3,000, and the odds were against its working.

The only treatment within our means – and that just barely – was to pay $1,000 to have the infected eye removed. (If the $3,000 operation was tried and failed, we would have to pay for this anyway.) Sonny goes in for surgery tomorrow. I am desolate with grief, though I know I shouldn’t be; in all probability he will have a long and happy life with one eye. But there will always be that empty part of his face to remind me. I don’t know what else I could have done, but I feel that I have failed him.

Work has resumed!

I recovered from most of the concussion symptoms a few days ago, but all the bed rest required aggravated my spinal injury and gave me neck spasms. Now I am on a witch’s brew of Robaxacet and assorted pain medications, which are allowing me to function well enough to write a little, but not well enough to sleep all the way through the night. Last night I got up about midnight and wrote a chapter for the second episode of Where Angels Die. I post it here, as it might amuse some of my 3.6 Loyal Readers.

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50

Today, so the calendar tells me, is my birthday. I had hoped to have Superversive available today, but matters became complicated when ‘The exotic and the familiar’ firmly announced that it needed to be in the book. (It was right.) So the release is delayed a few days.

As for my age: I admit to 117, but the Powers That Be have an unreasoning reluctance to pay me a pension, and insist that I am only fifty. Whichever is the case, as Aragorn said, I am no longer young even in the reckoning of the Men of the Ancient Houses. Wish me well, Loyal Readers, on the back side of the hill.

Apologies

Part 3 of ‘The exotic and the familiar’ has been badly delayed. My doctors have changed my medication yet again, and my body and mind are struggling to adapt. Going cold turkey on one drug has given me nightmares, reduced mental acuity, and random weepy bouts. Starting up on another drug has given me insomnia and anxiety attacks. Both of these effects are bound to go away in a few weeks, but until then, I am having great difficulty applying myself and getting work done

On top of that, I somehow managed to throw out my back and strain a muscle. For the first 24 hours, I could not stand up straight, but had to walk like Dagwood Bumstead or Groucho Marx. Now I can stand, though not without pain, and my mind is mildly fogged with painkillers.

I am very sorry for the delay. Please pray, if that be your wont, that I may get through the next few weeks without any more of these interesting experiences.

Checking in again

Carbonel mentions that it’s been a while since my last post, and inquires after my well-being. (Thanks, Carbonel!)

The Loyal 3.6 may be relieved to hear that I am well enough in myself, though I’ve been plagued by unusual fatigue this past week. I am trying to get through a shortish (~25,000 word) writing project, but have not been able to concentrate very well. I can do odd little world-building jobs and that kind of thing, but when I actually sit down to write copy, I find that my brain has turned to tapioca pudding.

As soon as I get some decent headway on the current project, I hope to post a sample. It’s a novella with the working title The Stone Sword, a sort of prequel to The Eye of the Maker, which I am writing partly to work out some backstory that I will need to continue the said Octopus; and partly because it will make a good cheap (or free) ebook to scatter far and wide as a promotional gewgaw.

Delay ended (I hope)

Tuesday afternoon to the optometrist for a new glasses prescription, the old one having expired. (Steven Wright has a one-liner about that.) From there to Mall-Wart, as I affectionately call it, to buy two pairs of cheap eyeglasses, so that if I am clumsy again I can still make a spectacle of myself. Brooke, the optician, is at least a minor genius, and managed to patch up the wreckage of my old glasses (which I brought along in case the optometrist wanted to take measurements off them) so that they would at least sit on my face and the lenses would not spontaneously pop out of the frames. Both these desirable qualities were lacking before.

So it is now just shy of 1 a.m., Frozen North Daylight Time, and I am just sitting down to resume work. Sound the All Clear.