September 29, 2006

The Forge of God

forge of god

I was going to write a bad review of the book, but then I thought what’s the point. I enjoyed it, it went fast, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. The reviews on the back say things like it has a “depth of characterization” rare for a science fiction novel. Just writing, “He had a bad childhood. He never got along with his father” (not actually in the book) does not make depth of characterization. Really, this is a page turner like other page turners—very good at doing that but it doesn’t uncover anything about people that you haven’t read before.

The story is about an alien civilization that comes to destroy the human race, with another alien race trying to save it. Meanwhile, the President is losing his mind and thinks it’s the Book of Revelations come to life. Exactly up my alley and I feared for a second that it’s already the novel I want to write. It covers some similar territory, but it stays on the President’s insanity for around 20 pages and then drops it.

Bestseller writing gets too cheap for me. There’s this part in Richard Price’s Freedomland, another thinking man’s bestseller, where they’re looking for a dead kid and they have to go by an abandoned mental hospital overrun with howling stray cats. Pretty chilling and suspenseful but also cheap. At every turn, even if the character’s just getting milk out of the refrigerator, you’re wondering, “Oh no, is there going to be any milk in the refrigerator???” Makes you turn the page, every second is suspenseful. Which is good and makes you keep reading but it counters the “depth of characterization” by creating a world of suspense that does not actually exist. It has nothing to do with how people interact with each other.

Still, calls bullshit all those arguments about what makes “good” literature. This isn’t good literature as people talk about it but it’s still useful, a good read, and it’s much more intelligent than a lot of science fiction out there. I’ve read some bad books about UFOs. I have two more end of the world books coming my way: Alas, Babylon and Earth Abides.

Philip K. Dick never wrote such an obvious page-turner, and he’s basically the only science fiction writer who’s books I keep reading. I’ve also been reading the Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick. He talks a lot about characterization—bringing it to science fiction. The man was a genius. I don’t mean to speak hyperbole, he was. People who can’t read his science fiction—they can’t read about precogs, life on other planets, hovering satellites, and the like without glazing over—might get him if they read this book. It’s like a manifesto for science fiction. I’m halfway through—haven’t gotten to his Exegesis passages.

Amazing that at the time of A Scanner Darkly being released, he was broke. His electricity had been shut off the week before. At the same time, he was supporting himself entirely by writing novels, so he had that going for him. Here’s a brief interview with him. Haven’t seen much footage of him. I have yet to see the movie, but I want to as soon as it comes to DVD.


Emil Michelle said...

You are SO right, Henry. Dick was a genius. I never tire of watching Blade Runner, or of reading any of his books.

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