Posts Tagged ‘books’

Storytelling Across Cultures

They always say to read broadly, don’t they, squiders? And generally this means that if you normally read mysteries, pick up a romance every now and then, or some science fiction, or if you read novels to read short stories, or if you only read stuff from authors who are alike to you in race/gender/orientation, etc. to try authors who are different than you in one or all categories.

One could argue that reading stories from other cultures fits into this as well.

Have you ever read folklore and creation myths from different cultures? (I read a ton of creation myths at one point–I think it was research back when I was writing Shards–and it was very interesting to see what trended across cultures from different sides of the planet.) It’s really quite fascinating. I have a whole shelf of folklore here in my office–Russian, African, Hawaiian, American Indian–and even made it through the Kojiki at one point.

And stories take different mediums depending on the culture as well. And there are differences between the beats and flow even within the same medium. The kabuki theater tradition in Japan is completely different than Western theater (and is actually why people think ninjas wore black, though that’s another story). A puppet show in Europe is different than the shadow puppets of Asia.

Story structure varies as well. I was reading earlier about differences between “western” (in this case, American) and “eastern” (Japanese) storytelling. The article said that while western stories tend to depend on direct conflict and use a three-act story structure, eastern storytellers use a four act structure that goes “introduction, development, twist and reconciliation.” There can be–and often is–conflict, but it’s handled in a completely different manner. (If you’ve ever watched Spirited Away or another Ghibli film, you’ve probably seen this act structure in action.)

(Something else I read on the subject pointed out that in American storytelling, the main character is often the strongest, most interesting person in the story, with the other characters being relegated to sidekicks, whereas in Japanese storytelling, the main character is often an everyperson who is thrust into a situation where they’re surrounded by people who are more powerful and/or more interesting than they are. Which is true, to some degree, but I can also think of some examples where it’s not, so much like everything in life, there are always exceptions.)

What do you think, squiders? Feelings on stories and mediums from other cultures? Favorite stories from other countries? Thoughts on storytelling structure?

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Announcing the Red Mars Readalong

All right, squiders. We’re going to do the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson for our next readalong.

I’m excited to do this one, because I have been carting this trilogy around for probably close to 20 years without reading it, and if you’re at all familiar with it, you know these are fat books. My copy of Red Mars (which is the only one handy–Green Mars and Blue Mars are currently relegated to the basement bookcase) is about 600 pages of tiny font. So not Wheel of Time fat, but pretty dang fat.

I think I picked the series up around the time I read Dune and Ringworld and books of those ilk. I think I thought the series was older than it was, since it seemed to be on all the same lists. It is a Nebula award winner, so that’s cool.

(My copy was also apparently once owned by my local library. I hope I bought it at a book sale and didn’t steal it off the shelves. It doesn’t seem to have the general library book accouterments such as stickers with shelving location and whatnot, so I’m going to assume it’s all good.)

I have also never read anything by Kim Stanley Robinson (though I believe these were some of his first books), though my husband recently finished 2312, so assuming he’s consistent in his narrative form, I have a vague idea of what to expect.

Let’s give ourselves plenty of time to get through this one. November 1 sound good?

(I will also note that I will probably read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which was also on the poll, sometime in October, both because I want to, and because one of my writing groups is having a paranormal/horror reading challenge in October, and that’s the first one that comes to mind. So I may or may not talk about that one as well.)

Time for a New Readalong!

It’s been almost half a year since we read The Sparrow, so let’s pick out a new book and/or series to look at! I’ve tried to provide a wide variety of genres and standalone/series options.

Also, if you’d very much like to do a different book or series, please let me know in the comments.

Also let me know if you prefer if I just pick a book on my own. The polls are still a new thing.

Literary Namesakes

My sister recently dropped off a book for me to read (along with some llama socks and a Totoro keychain, woot woot) that featured her name in the title.

Me: “Did you pick this up just cuz the main character is named after you?
Her: “Yes.” A pause. “But I think you’ll really like it.”

And to be fair, I’m a little over a fourth of the way into the book, and I do like it. So I give her that.

But it is kind of fun, isn’t it, when you open a book and find a character with your same name? Well, unless the character is a jerk. Or your name is so common that there’s another one everywhere you look. Or you share a name with somebody super famous (can you imagine all the Harry Potters out there?).

At least for me, though, “Kit” isn’t terribly common, so it’s still exciting when another one comes out of the woodwork, but it’s common enough that it does come out occasionally. Though, being a gender neutral name, I did go through a period of time where all the Kits I found were male. Kit Cloudkicker in TaleSpin, a male griffin in The Dark Lord of Derkholm (by Dianna Wynne Jones), etc.

(Not that there aren’t female Kits, of course. There’s an American Girl named Kit, after all, though I will admit to never reading any of those, since she came out after I’d moved off of American Girls. And Kit Tyler from The Witch of Blackbird Pond, which I think was required reading back in elementary school.)

And, like my sister, I will admit to picking up a book if I know the main character is named Kit. I did that with Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan, which is a supernatural story taking place in a boarding school, and with a mystery that I can’t recall the name of where the central mystery revolved around something that could have been solved with a 5-second Google search (the book predated Google, but I was still annoyed that that-Kit couldn’t do some basic research somewhere).

What do you think, squiders? Do you like opening a book and finding your own name staring back at you? Or does it weird you out?

Be Jealous of My Box of Books

So, everyone I know is moving this week.

Okay, not everyone, but five people. It’s still a lot. And all at the same time.

One of the things about moving is that you realize how much stuff you’ve wedged into your current place, and how a lot of it you haven’t touched in years. Luckily for me, my family has realized they have a lot of books that they’re never going to read again.

And now they’re mine, bwhahaha.

My grandmother is an avid mystery reader and had a ton of books she’d already read, and my mother was offloading MG/YA science fiction and fantasy that she’d needed to keep up with what her students were reading, but doesn’t need them now that she’s retired.

Here’s my haul:

Box of Books

Mysteries/Thrillers/Gothic:

  • Lion in the Valley, Elizabeth Peters (1986)
  • The Ipcress File, Len Deighton (1962)
  • A Cold Day for Murder, Dana Stabenow (1992) (haha, her name has “stab” in it)
  • The Man with a Load of Mischief, Martha Grimes (1981)
  • Booked to Die, John Dunning (1992)
  • The Missing Mr. Mosley, John Greenwood (1986)
  • Mosley by Moonlight, John Greenwood (1985)
  • Mists over Mosley, John Greenwood (1986)
  • The Mind of Mr. Mosley, John Greenwood (1987)
  • What, Me, Mr. Mosley?, John Greenwood (1988)
  • Smoke in the Wind, Peter Tremayne (2001)
  • “A” is for Alibi, Sue Grafton (1982)
  • Raven Black, Ann Cleeves (2006)
  • Edwin of the Iron Shoes, Marcia Muller (1977)
  • The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley (1919)
  • The Scapegoat, Daphne du Marnier (1956)

YA/MG Fantasy/Scifi:

  • Uglies, Pretties, Specials (trilogy), Scott Westerfeld (2005-2006)
  • The Vampire Diaries (books 1-4), L. J. Smith (1991)
  • Songs of Power, Hilari Bell (2000)
  • Raven’s Gate, Anthony Horowitz (2005)

Other:

  • From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E. L. Konigsburg (children’s, 1967)
  • Lord of Legends, Susan Krinard (romance/fantasy, 2009)
  • The View from Saturday, E. L. Konigsburg (children’s, 1996)
  • The Wanderer, Sharon Creech (MG historical, 2000)

(I really like E. L. Konigsburg. Or I did as a kid.)

What do you think, squiders? Read any of my new acquisitions? Where would you start if you were me?

Reading Old Books vs New

A writing friend once, in the middle of a storycraft discussion, declared that if you want to be published, you shouldn’t be reading anything older than about five years. So, for example, if you’re reading anything before 2013 today, you’re only shooting yourself in the foot.

There is something to be said about this advice. By looking at the recent trends, especially in your genre, you can see what’s selling and what’s not, as well as what agents and publishers seem to like. (While something can come out of left field and be a bestseller, most books that are published are “safe” books.)

(Also, said friend is a bestselling author whose book has been optioned for television, so he does know what he’s talking about.)

If you’ve been around here at all, you know I’m terrible at following this advice. (As we speak, I’m wading through an 1896 novel called The Well at World’s End which is fantasy in the 1800s-romantic poetry sort of fashion.)

Is there something to be gained from reading older books?

Well, to be honest, probably not. I mean, not from a marketing standpoint. The publishing industry is not a static thing. Something that was big ten years ago probably won’t fly today. (And you have to remember that, if you’re reading traditionally published books, that the book that comes out today was probably accepted about two years ago, so the industry may have already moved on.)

But, I mean, that’s not why I’m reading them.

I’m reading them because I like to see the evolution of the genre. Because it’s interesting to see how genre conventions came into being and how they’ve changed over time. Because I like reading the stories that influenced the authors that influenced me.

And because, arguably, the things that worked once can be rewoven and reintegrated to work again in new ways.

What do you think, squiders? Do you like the occasional older work, whether it’s over a hundred years or closer to 50? Do you think there’s value in looking where we’ve been, or only in where we are?

Revisiting Time Travel a New Way

We like science fiction an awful lot on this blog, squiders, and I, at least, also like a good time travel story.

(If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll know I come back to this topic every few years.)

Time travel can take a ton of different forms, of course, from being the main mechanism in a story to just some flavoring for another type of story (historical fiction, romance, etc.). So I was a bit amused recently when I found myself reading two different books, written almost 40 years apart, that used the same time travel mechanics, and ones that I’m not sure I’ve seen a lot elsewhere.

The books in question are Version Control (Dexter Palmer, 2016) and Thrice Upon a Time (James P. Hogan, 1980).

(I suppose this could potentially be spoiler-y, so read with caution.)

In both, time travel is treated very scientifically, with proper skepticism and with believable limits on how far you can go back and how the mechanism works. As such, we’re not jetting back to the Middle Ages or going back to assassinate Hitler or anything of that ilk. (Version Control deals with a limit of a few years, while Thrice Upon a Time deals in months.)

But both also include the fact that the new timeline overwrites the old timeline. Change something in the past, and the future that did the changing never existed. Not even the time traveler remembers.

(This is handled masterfully in Version Control, and even though I’m a bit sad about the ending–especially since there was another option–I understand why it went the way it did.)

So there’s no hints that the timeline has been changed (unless there’s a purposeful message left–in Thrice Upon a Time messages can be sent from the future to the past, but the act of sending/receiving the message is what erases the previous timeline) and no way for the people in the new timeline to know what happened on the original timeline or what, specifically, has been changed.

So it opens up very interesting questions like: what if you actually made things worse? How can you tell if it’s worth the risk to change the past when your present will no longer exist? If you did change that one event, would you actually accomplish what you meant to?

And no way to test, because the previous timeline is gone and can’t be recovered.

Very interesting take on the concept. Less adventure, more think-y.

I enjoyed Version Control and am not quite done with Thrice Upon a Time, though at this point I’m not sure if I would recommend it. It gets bogged down in long infodumps in the first half of the book, but has improved now that we’re finally using the time travel concept instead of just talking about it.

Know another book that uses this same time travel mechanic, Squiders? Read these books? Thoughts?