nice story. Most of my revisions, aside from cleaning up typos, were just cleaning up phrasing and dialogue, and tightening up a description here or there to make the plotting a bit more airtight. It’s always dangerous to justify things that happen in your story after they happen, which I found I was doing too much of in the original; there should be less of that in the new version.
This book reminded me of Ursula K Le Guin's writing. Something about the descriptions, the pacing, the plotting, the characters, echoed that author's mode and style. Not that I think Wild Seed is derivative in any way - it is one of the most unique stories I've come across recently - merely that the author happened to have similar style and preferences to Le Guin. Also like Le Guin, Butler takes a fairly common concept - that of immortals interacting with mortals - and follows through on it in a way that makes it compelling and original. This is, in many ways, what I've always wanted to see in a book that tackles that concept.
Perhaps I could have made this into a “book review” – the essay is certainly lengthy enough to justify it – but I rarely have trouble keeping up with book reviews, while writing Tuesday’s blog posts can be more of a challenge. More pertinently, I don’t so much want to review Losing the War for you, as I do want to share my thoughts on this peculiar, rambling essay. It was something my dad first found and shared with me several years ago, and it somehow came up in recent conversation, so I decided to revisit it. If you haven’t read it before, you can find it here: Losing the War.
If I had to distill Blindsight down to a single, central theme, it would be that of self. What is the concept of self? How does it relate to the concept of what is human? What is the origin, function, and cost of self-awareness? How does it relate to free will, and does free will exist, or is it merely an illusion? Watts seems to have created the entire novel as a thought experiment to explore these concepts, and he leverages two lenses to accomplish that: the various neuro-atypicalities of his characters, and the distinctively intelligent but unaware aliens. Either of these ideas alone could have easily been the foundation of a compelling novel. Combining them together made this one both more compelling, and more challenging, and is in many ways at the core of my personal dichotomy over Blindsight.
Have you ever been reading or watching something, and just when things were starting to get interesting, you found yourself asking: “What? Why didn’t they do ______?” Sometimes, there’s a very good reason for this that will be discovered later, or the creator made a conscious decision for the character to make a mistake in that instance, or perhaps they were even limited by more practical considerations (in the case of movies or television) like special effects budgets and capabilities. Regardless, these dichotomies, where you think something could have or should have happened, but it didn’t, can be terribly disruptive to a story.
Although I think most people associate Buddhism with India, it has also historically had a strong presence in China, and it is because of China that The Diamond Sutra ended up on my reading list. When I picked it up, the only thing I knew about it was that a copy of it was the oldest existing printed book. The information at the front informed me that it was a Buddhist text, and that it was going to tell me about enlightenment. With that, I went into one of the shortest books I've read in a very long time.
knew, beyond a doubt, that it was going to be one of the most exciting and interesting episodes to write, because Vere is such a fascinating character, and we would finally get to spend a significant amount of time in his viewpoint. We've had brief snippets in his viewpoint, like in All Cooped Up and No Place to Go, and Fallen Angel, but we've never had an episode where the main events of the story revolved around the Guardcaptain. Bread and Steel was going to change that, with a story leveraging his particular talents and traits in service to the peculiar setup of Merolate's military.
As you know if you've been following along with the weekly reviews for awhile, I've been spending a lot of time reading this past year or so books that deal with either myth or ancient history, whether its the mythology of Iceland or Tolkien, and that has led me to my own thoughts about mythology and history, including a rapidly growing novel that draws from such ideas and formats for much of its inspiration. In many ways, Gaiman's Norse Mythology feels like a similar project, a retelling of old myths in a new way. Instead of telling a new story inspired by those older sources, Gaiman actually retells a sampling of real, classic myths.
In truth, writing straddles the line between an art and a science, as much as I find that phrase cliché and overused. When something is defined as “the art and the science of blank,” it’s really just a way to avoid having to rigorously explain the entire topic. This is why leadership is always defined as an “art and a science” – no one wants to go through the effort of reducing to explicit, technical principles all of the different variations and intricacies of leaders. However, that’s a subject for another day. Writing, at least fiction writing, truly is an art and a science.
In my literary tour of the ancient world, I've visited Iceland, Europe, the Middle East, India, and the Mediterranean, and I have plans to visit China (that will be next week's review, sort of). The perhaps obvious gaping holes in this journey are Africa and the Americas, which simply do not have the same ancient literary traditions as the other locations I've mentioned. I could be reading ancient Greek literature for the rest of the year at least, but even finding a single title authentic to the Americas (as opposed to a history of the region) was a challenge. Eventually, I stumbled across something called the Popol Vuh.