Al Fin Affictionado

A Combination of Original Fiction and Reviews of Fiction Interesting to Al Fin and Contributors All Works Copyright as of publish date, AlFin2100 blog syndicate

Location: North America

Primary interest is seeing that the best of humanity survives long enough to reach the next level.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What in the World is Wrong with Stephen King?

Stephen King is one of the best selling authors currently writing popular fiction. Far be it from me, Al Fin, to suggest that Stephen King should change his formula. He certainly makes more money by following his own instincts than he would if he wrote books that I could appreciate more.

That having been said, is there anyone in the world who would want to be stuck with Stephen King on a desert island, or in an emergency? Probably no one in his right mind.

Take one of King's more recent books, Cell. When huge numbers of people are rendered near-zombies while talking on their cell phones, King's protagonists quickly decide they need to get out of Boston, and fast. They are smart enough to raid a neighborhood gun nut's gun cabinet and make off with a potent arsenal. They even pack a travel lunch. But how do they go from Boston to Maine? They walk!

Okay, the roads are littered with abandoned vehicles. It would have been hard work to drive a regular automobile to Maine. Petrol stations lacked power for pumping fuel. That is another problem. But problems in a novel are fertile fields for creative solutions. Do King's protagonists solve any of these problems? No, they walk.

Mind wiped zombies are okay, as a plot challenge. But even zombies need to take care of themselves, or they will die in large numbers. Does King explain how these moronic creatures survive? It is fortunate for the zombies that the "change" happened in warm weather. But humans can die of exposure even in the summertime, in New England, if they do not take precautions.

Then King has to go and create a weird telepathic group mind, led by a "raggedy-man" black Harvard professor wearing a red hoody. How weird is that? Of course, that's how King makes the big bucks--by being weird. That has always been his way. But I was hoping he would eventually grow out of most of that.

It reminds me of King's "The Stand." It began plausibly enough, with an escaped microbe that kills quickly, and by the millions. Just surviving something like that is enough of a plot device to carry a fairly long book, with a good author. Then this weird Las Vegas demonic character appears in dreams summoning the survivors. And it all goes downhill.

Yes, I realize that there are plenty of people who like Stephen King just the way he is, with all his kinks, quirks, and mental tics. But Stephen King is not really a thinking person's novelist. He frequently starts off allright, then descends into an irrational netherworld of unconscious fears that brings millions to bookstores and movie theatres.

So there you have it. I simply do not like the twists and turns of King's mind, as a writer. Perhaps some day I will try to peer beyond the desire to make money off people's fears, into the other reasons King does what he does with his pen.

What in the World is Wrong with Stephen King?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Harry Turtledove: The Gladiator

Harry Turtledove is best known as the author of a number of "alternate history" science fiction novels. The Gladiator is a 2007 Turtledove novel, the fourth in a series labeled "Crosstime Traffic." It is set in an alternative timeline on Earth, where the Soviet Union won the cold war and is now the global hegemon. Specifically, it is set in Northern Italy, in the Italian People's Republic.

The main characters are Gianfranco--the son of a Communist Party functionary--and the daughter of a Milanese physician, Annarita. Under Italian Communism, life is not quite as bleak as the more efficient Communism of the Germans or the Russians. Not as bleak as Oceania in 1984, or as modern day North Korea or Cuba. But Turtledove's communist Milan is not a happy place.

The secret police rule the streets. Students inform on students, and family members denounce other family members to the authorities. You must watch what you say at all times.

But an aberration appears on the streets of Milan. A game shop (The Gladiator) where even the children of good communists may play capitalist games, and learn to run a society based upon markets, rather than five year plans from the central committee. The main characters become involved with the game shop--Gianfranco as a player and Annarita as a defender of the shop before the Young Communists at school.

When the shop is raided by the Security Police, all of the workers at the shop escape across Timelines except for the front clerk Eduardo, who is stuck in the world communism timeline. The rest of the story is about the efforts of Gianfranco and Annarita to assist Eduardo in returning to his home timeline.

The first half of the book is fairly entertaining, with teenage characters providing the energy and a hint of romance. As the issue of alternate timelines enters the plot, the narration becomes less illustrative and more expositive. That is generally the sign of a writer rushing through an assignment, or the sign of a writer who has not learned any better. Turtledove knows better.

A major plot flaw involved Eduardo being "stuck" in the dismal timeline, with no way of communicating with other crosstimers. If one is to assume the technology advantage of the capitalist crosstimers in terms of computing and timeline crossing, one should assume advantages in communication technologies that would allow stranded crosstimers to request extraction.

This is one of my largest pet peeves in fiction writing. An author who intentionally leaves a glaring plot loophole, or forces a character to behave stupidly out of character, just to create the proper plot twist.

I enjoyed Turtledove's "Guns of the South," which had a more entertaining narrative than "The Gladiator." I suspect that once an author starts down the road of writing "series fiction," she is tempted to cut corners. It has been many years since I have read a Turtledove novel. It will likely be years more before my next.


Harry Turtledove: The Gladiator
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