Readable
By Dwip June 26, 2007, 7:49 am Comments (3) RSS Feed for this post

Let’s do some before-work story discussion. First, by nodding at this post of Regina’s, which in its last moments asks a question that I think is particularly interesting.
That aside, I finished two things last night. The first of them is Trigun, an anime about which some of you may have previously heard, and which I watched for the second time. It’s a bizzare show, in that the first thirteen or so episodes are just generally …there, and one gets the sense that they could have made a much better series at about half the length, since the second half of the series is, well, quite good, if sometimes nonsensical. It also puts me in the position of utterly disagreeing with the philosophy of the main character (Vash the Stampede), while at the same time rooting for him, because Vash is cool. I also love the world building. I’m a sucker for great world building.
But the slapstick. Oh dear gods. Also the sand steamer episodes, which need to be excised from history, they’re so bad.
I needed to burn a couple hours before sleep, and the internets are only so exciting, so I picked up SM Stirling’s The Sky People, intending to read it for a couple hours, which of course means that an hour and a half after my bedtime, I finished it, put it down, and said “That was COOL!” And so it was. One of the things I like about SM Stirling is that he comes from that tradition where its perfectly acceptable for a few guys (and girls) and a dog can set out and Have Adventures in the Unsettled Wilderness, which takes me back in particular to my early Tom Swift days, among other things. And so this book is all about that, not to mention being sort of an extended tribute to a bunch of classic SF authors I never read, but heard about.
Anyway. So, take Venus. Give it an earthlike atmosphere, make it swampy, and give it culture somewhere between Jurassic Park, Ben-Hur, Guns of the South, and Clan of the Cave Bear. We have bronze age dudes. We have Neanderthals. We have scientists from Earth riding around on a friggin’ triceratops (which wins right then and there, to be honest), and a particular scene that creates something I’ve wanted to do roughly since I read The Valley of the Horses.
Let me put it like this. Either riding the triceratops is cool, or it’s not cool. If it IS cool, you should be reading this book right now. If it ISN’T cool, you should also be reading this book in an effort to salvage a childhood that you apparently never had.
Dinosaurs are COOL. Riding them is COOL. This book needs a sequel. Which I don’t see one of on Amazon, though I do see the beginning of a second Dies the Fire trilogy, which I’m perfectly ok with, to be honest.
That aside, and going back to that whole discussion of old about the quality of SF/F vs stuff set in reality, I was recalling the intro to my fiction writing class lo these five years ago, which was basically “no genre. We are better than this, and besides, anything you can do in that we can do in reality.”
So I got to thinking about that, and came to the conclusion that:
1. Well, really, setting is most of the time just window dressing anyway, so there’s some truth to that.
2. On the other hand, while that’s true, there’s so many stories that would be less than they actually are by taking them from their given setting and putting them in “reality.” Cowboy Bebop, for instance, could be done as, say, a sort of rough streets of New York film, but doing so would make it so much less than what it is, because the setting and the ways people interact with that setting are so important.
3. And then I started thinking “Well, are there any stories that literally cannot, when stripped down to their core elements, be placed in the real world?” A quick scan of my bookshelves produced:
– The Lord of the Rings is perhaps debatable, in that you could take most of the things at the heart of it (quest story, save the world, etc) and translate them. And it might actually be worth doing that, considering the fundamental greatness of the source. But again, to do that in any but the most imaginative way would make the story less than it actually is.
– Highlander, insofar as between the swordfights its a meditation on the nature of immortality, would be utterly impossible without the fantastic elements. That having been said, there’s really only one fantastic element to it (two if you count the swords), so it’s most of the way there already. That one element is kind of big, however.
– The whole Island In the Sea of Time/163x genre, insofar as they’re meditations on technology, society, and history that really can’t be done in this day and age, outside of writing a novel about, say, African jungle-dwellers getting ahold of a bunch of European tech, which would then be a historical novel, and that’s genre, now isn’t it?
I could go on, but work calls. Feel free to add more to the list.


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Comments on Readable
avatar Comment by Suz #1
June 28, 2007 at 2:24 pm

I guess it depends on your definition of “core elements,” and that, I think, is based too much on opinion. For example, I don’t think LoTR would be the same story if you tried to change it to fit into “the real world.” You have some elements that are easy to translate, you know, devotion to a cause/friends/country, sacrifice, consequences of war … but what do things like the Bal Rog represent? Is it just another Big Obstacle(TM) that needs to be tackled and over come? If so, it could be replaced by just about anything, from an abusive father to cancer.

Or does it represent

avatar Comment by Whir #2
June 29, 2007 at 5:34 am

I have a lengthy list of sci-fi books that couldn’t be pulled off as normal fiction. However, I am above sharing this list with some of you, because you have not read Neuromancer or Do Androids Dream. You people know who you are.

avatar Comment by Dwip #3
June 29, 2007 at 11:23 pm

I don’t disagree with you, particularly, although:

– A modern world LOTR could be made to be cool, though probably best done as some kind of shortened movie ala that one Romeo and Juliet thing.