Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book Report: Light by M. John Harrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Here's what I've learned from the M. John Harrison school of writing:

1 - Make sure secondary characters never directly talk about anything important or otherwise, and be sure that they say plenty of enigmatic statements. This can be accomplished by using non-sequitor declarative statements and starting/stopping conversations abruptly.

2 - It is best to describe physical surroundings and characters well after the reader has made a picture in their own minds. For instance in Light: Shadow Boys are mentioned in the first 10 pages, but are not described until page 60, and Anna's apartment, which features prominently in the beginning, isn't fully described until page 150.

3 - Be sure to describe physical actions poorly or not at all, and instead use highly suggestive statements that say very little, like: "They looked at what they did to the boy," but DO NOT go on and describe any what they did to the boy.

4 - Main Characters should never make statements that would directly inform the reader of any motivations.

5 - Try to be as unclear as possible, while using clear powerful images.

6 - Make sure no one is enjoying themselves, even when they are (sex, games, fun).

7 - Do your best to not give two shits about logistics, such as Rent, Careers, Jobs, or Money. The lives of the characters don't matter anyhow.

8 - When killing characters remember that the cost of human lives is pennies on the dollar, so don't bother going into details when you kill people, and don't get messy, such as if you have a serial killer in your novel, never describe his messy pasttime. Just say: "He killed her." No more detail is necessary. Remember, you have to imply their lives are worthless.

9 - Start as many subplots as you like, and don't bother tying them up. You want to leave as many lose ends as possible. This will help muddle your story.

10 - When in doubt have the characters throw-up. Or piss themselves.

That might seem like a harsh review, but seriously, this dude can write. Not out of the ballpark, but good, real good. I'd say the writing was 4 to 4.5, depending on the chapter. But the story? Ugh. Truth is, the final chapter could probably be read as its own stand-alone short story (me thinks perhaps it was?), and actually explains some of the novel, though it doesn't explain why I had to wade through 400 pages of characterizations, loose ends, idiosyncratic side stories, descriptions, and about 20 story lines that went nowhere, though I admit were pretty entertaining to read at times. The story actually starts on Page 406 and ends on Page 418. The rest is just set up, for nothing particularly new. Which is fine. It was an okay ride, but I've had way better.

M. John really wants to render a "life-like" drama, one filled with the random rhythms of life, where things don't make sense and are left unexplained, however when writing is specifically designed to emulate randomness, it ceases to be random and instead, at times, feels contrived, convoluted, and forced. It's not an utter fail, it's just that "life-like" drama and world building should be used as a tool, not as a goal for a book. At least in my humble opinion.

I'd read another. Might even start the sequel, "Nova Swing", but I won't be surprised if I don't finish it.

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