The End

Dec. 12th, 2005 09:06 pm
coalescent: (Default)
[ profile] grahamsleight points to an article about last lines:
One of the favourite games of literary people is that of best first lines. Everyone enjoys reciting them; the bizarre (Earthly Powers), the haunting (Rebecca), the august (Anna Karenina), the casual (Howards End) or the strangely anonymous (Jane Eyre). First lines are great fun. But they aren't really as important to a novel as the last lines. From a terrible first line, a novel may recover; the last line is what it leaves a reader with.
And, you know, it's not wrong. Obviously last lines only really have their full impact if you've read the rest of the story, and very often it's about the last paragraph not just the last line but still, it's not wrong. We should talk about last lines more. There was even a conversation about last lines on this very journal a couple of days ago. So let's have those, and some more:
Pacific Edge by Kim Stanley Robinson:

When he was done he put down his tools. Behind him Orange County pulsed green and amber, jumping with his heart, glossy, intense, vibrant, awake, alive. His world and the wind pouring through it. His hands came together and made their half swing. If only Hank hadn't caught that last one. If only Ramona, if only Tom, if only all the world, all in him at once, with the sharp stab of our unavoidable grief; and it seemed to him then that he was without a doubt the unhappiest person in the whole world.

And at that thought (thinking about it) he began to laugh.

The Periodic Table by Primo Levi:

It is that which at this instant, issuing out of a labyrinthine tangle of yeses and nos, makes my hand run along a certain path on the paper, mark it with these volutes that are signs: a double snap, up and down, between two levels of energy, guides this hand of mine to impress on the paper this dot, here, this one.

'The Girl Detective' by Kelly Link:

She came down and stood under the tree. She looked a lot like my mother. Get down out of the tree this instant! she said. Don't you know it's time for dinner?

'Hell is the Absence of God' by Ted Chiang:

And though it's been many years that he has been in Hell, beyond the awareness of God, he loves Him still. That is the measure of true devotion.

Voyage by Stephen Baxter:

By God, she thought, we're here. We came for all the wrong reasons, and by all the wrong methods, but we're here, and that's all that matters. And we've found soil, and sunlight, and air, and water.

She said: "I'm home."

A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell:

One hollow, hateful little man. One last awful thought: all the harm he ever did was done for him by others.
Many, many more here. But what are your favourites? (And I don't just want 'The Nine Billion Names of God' and Lord of the Rings; be creative!)
coalescent: (Default)
I was tagged by Chance. I'm not tagging anyone, but if you want to write fifteen things about books, I will only encourage you.

1. A partial list of writers I read while growing up: Arthur Ransome, Nicholas Fisk, Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Johanna Spyri, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Isaac Asimov, CS Lewis, Willard Price, John Wyndham.

2. A partial list of writers I have read this year: Kelly Link, Justina Robson, F Scott Fitzgerald, Umberto Eco, Kazuo Ishiguro, Kim Stanley Robinson, Margo Lanagan, Tricia Sullivan, Charles Stross, Mary Doria Russell, Ian McEwan, Chinua Achebe, Michael Chabon, Ken Macleod, Matt Ruff.

3. There is no iceberg. I do not read nine times as many books as I write about. What you see is more or less what you get.

4. Don't ask me why I mostly read science fiction, and mostly read contemporary books. Don't try to tell me, either. I can make guesses, but I don't really know.

5. 'Genre' is a loaded word because it means both 'marketing category' and 'content', and though books in the marketing category will have the content, the reverse is not true. When I say 'I like science fiction' I almost always mean the content (or, I should say, more accurately, the mode, until someone can define science fiction by content in a satisfactory way) rather than the marketing category.

6. I am increasingly aware of how small and how big the world is, how much of it is far away from and unfamiliar to me, and how many stories lack any sense of that perspective. I don't ask that all stories sprawl--although I tend to like ones that do--but increasingly I think I need some self-awareness. This is perhaps particularly true of sf stories.

7. I wrote upwards of 35,000 words about books this year. Writing reviews doesn't feel like an obligation; it's something I do because I enjoy it, because I want to be and enjoy being part of the conversation. This week, for the first time, I was paid for a review I wrote. I'm not complaining, but it felt weird.

8. When I write a review, I don't have a mental checklist of things that I look for in a good book. I start with 'did I like this?' and then try to work out 'why?'

9. A corollary of this is that I can't think of a single characteristic that all the books I like share. I do not, for example, think that a story has to have great characters to be a great story. It has to have decent characters, but there are other virtues--plot, perspective, style, setting, subject--that can raise a story to greatness. (Equally, of course, a story can be great by virtue of its characters.)

10. Characters are other people's guesses of how other people work. We judge whether a character is convincing by validating them against what we know--'does this portrayal of an internal experience match my own internal experiences, or seem plausible as a model for the experiences I have seen others go through?' If the answer is no, the character will seem unconvincing. If the answer is yes, the character will seem convincing. Note that creation of a good character is dependent on the writer and the reader; different people will therefore find different characters memorable. Very good writers may be able to make characters convincing even if they are outside our personal experience, and will likely make us think about the experiences they go through in a way we hadn't done before.

11. I have to go and collect a parcel that couldn't be delivered earlier this week. I hope it contains books. UPDATE: It did! Although for Strange Horizons rather than for me.

12. Getting free books in the post is never, ever going to get old.

13. Books are comforting. I have piles of books all over the place. I tell myself this is because I don't have enough shelves--and that's true, but I suspect that even when I do have enough shelves I'll still have piles of books all over the place.

14. I've been putting off and putting off starting Stephen Baxter's latest, Transcendent, until I've got a clear run at it. At this rate, that will be sometime in 2006.

15. I always wish I read more nonfiction, but almost every time, when I'm wondering what to read next, a story seems more tempting. Maybe it's that I get my nonfiction fill from individual essays, or from work. Having said that, the last book I read was The Periodic Table by Primo Levi, which was brilliant.
coalescent: (Default)
[ profile] grahamsleight reported his Readercon schedule, which includes a panel titled: "What Do You Believe About Speculative Fiction That You Can't Prove?"

[ profile] ninebelow took this question and gave his own answer:
Most science fiction is shit. A common, unthinking response to this is to quote Sturgeon's Law as if it actually means anything. This may come as a surprise but it isn't actually a natural law and saying 90% of everything is crap doesn't tell you anything useful. In fact the quality of most science fiction is substantially below the quality of most mainstream fiction - as most of us in the genre ludicrously persist in calling literary mimetic fiction. Of the science fiction novels published in any given year you would be lucky to find one that stood up against a handful of popular, well received mimetic novels.
what I believe about sf but can't prove is almost the direct opposite:

There are many different measures of 'good writing'. What they all actually mean is 'the use of the best, most appropriate techniques for the story being told.' The best techniques for telling a realist story may not be--in fact, are probably unlikely to be--the same as the best techniques for telling an sf story. Consequently, measured by realist standards many sf novels may look like failures (and measured by sf standards, many realist novels may look like failures).

I say all this without denying that the majority of published sf is, indeed, shit, and without denying that the majority of it could indeed do with the wider frame of reference [ profile] ninebelow wishes for.

So: anyone else want to offer their own answers?

EDIT: And Graham has suggested almost the same argument already.
coalescent: (Default)
[ profile] hddod has a post about what she's read this year, and asks about reading habits. I posted my answers there, but I think I'll repeat them here, neatened up slightly, and I'd be interested to see answers for other people on my friendslist.

Read more... )
coalescent: (Default)
You know this 'fill in the blanks' meme that's going around? I've been watching it spread through my friends for the past couple of days, and just realised there are several different versions propogating.

chinese memes, in approximate chronological order )


Feb. 25th, 2003 11:05 pm
coalescent: (Default)
Did everyone else already know about the Livejournal Memetracker? The top forty most frequently linked URLs - and if you're so inclined, it's possible to click through and look at every post mentioning a given URL. Which is, I'll be honest, frequently more than a little disturbing. But a nice idea, all the same.

It's interesting how much of a gap there is between the top few links and the rest. And some of them I remember seeing months ago, like the personality disorder test; others, like the 404 of mass destruction and why nerds are unpopular have just appeared over the past week or so.

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