Posts Tagged ‘jonathan lethem’

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters – a review

August 24, 2012

Right up front here, this is going to be nothing like the recent review of Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills. I didn’t keep what was essentially a reading journal with this. I read the biggest chunk of it the other night between midnight and 330am and it’s really just an addictive read. Reading the back cover, it says it is the first part of atrilogy, and it mentions that everything is happening on the brink of apocalypse, giving it a scifi vibe, but it’s not a scifi novel. It’s a mystery novel, a detective pot boiler, and it’s a helluva lot of fun.  That’s something else I want to get out of the way right at the beginning, it’s a great read, it’s a fun read, I can wholly endorse it if you like detective/mystery stories.

That’s also not what I really want to talk about.

While I said it’s not a scifi novel, it is a scifi novel. In their own ways, I think the majority of detective novels are really scifi novels. Whether they have a glaring scifi element, such as an asteroid hurtling towards Earth and all of the social upheavel going on because of it, or if they don’t have any glaring scifi elements. While reading The Last Policeman, the novel that kept coming to mind was Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn. In each work we are plunged into the head of a detective who is maybe not the brightest flashlight we could pull out of the drawer, but by the end we find them the most reliable.

They are also aliens in their own worlds, as most great fictional detectives are. Even if you remove the End is Nigh plot device Winters uses, his lead detective is still a duck out of water. He doesn’t fit with the other detectives, he doesn’t really fit with the rest of society that he interacts with, everyone just sort of accommodates each other as best they can and try to make the most of it. We see the same thing with the lead character in Motherless Brooklyn, the tourrettes inflicted Lionel. His mental condition sets him apart, makes him alien to everyone else. Sherlock Holmes? He was certainly a bit of an odd-duck, too. As was Hercule Poirot.

If anything, this is part of the wonderful versatility of detective fiction and how it can approach scifi. In scifi, the alien is almost always the other character. They might be protagonists, they might be antagonists, that doesn’t really matter. But they are almost always the other. What detective fiction can do is make the alien the primary point of view, give us a set of eyes to look through that we don’t really get a chance to see otherwise. It allows us to see our own world as the other, as the alien, because the alien’s point of view has become our own.

Okay, back to Winters’ The Last Policeman. It’s a good read, check it out, and there is even some mention of moon bases. You might or might not be better off sitting down at midnight to devour it, though. Here’s the B&N link.

Advertisements

Lethem’s “Gun, with Occasional Music” a future movie?

December 11, 2009

as a fan of Jonathan Lethem, I like hearing about new books from him and I like hearing of the possibility of new movies based on his books (though I don’t like Ed Norton essentially casting himself as the lead in Motherless Brooklyn). 

Guns, with Occasional Music is one of those books that I loved to read but wasn’t sure could ever be a movie. Or at least a successful movie.  depending on who is involved,  I can certainly see it being pulled off. But with its mix of Dashiel Hammet style detective story with weird sci-fi, I’m not sure I see an audience for it unless it is drastically changed for the screen. Which would take out all of the fun.

So, if it gets done, I’m hoping for something with a modest budget, modest special effects, and a director who knows how to stretch a buck and get the image he wants (I’m thinking Gondy or Jean-pierre Jeunet, personally).  Whatever happens, it’s a project I’ll probably follow.

You Should Write About Storms

September 21, 2009

it’s funny what can jog your memory. I was sitting on the front steps of our building with my g/f and the neighbor’s kid, waiting for the school bus, when he asks me if I write books. I joke back that I write books badly and chuckle when the conversation quickly shifts to the ever worsening weather. I mention in passing that I like thunderstorms, the darker, louder, windier the better. Then the kid says I should write about storms.

I’m not sure if the kid was joking or not. It was flat in tone and, with the right inflection, I could easily see it being a weird little jab at my “being a writer.” But it got me thinking about maybe writing about storms. What they could symbolize, how they could be worked into a story, etc. etc. etc. when I realized that I had already written about storms!

It was just a short story, with kids and an apocalyptic storm that fell disaster upon them – a real Stephen King Special – but it was something that I had really enjoyed when I had finished with it but which had been lost in the shuffle since I wrote it. It also made me think of the another little horror story I wrote for a fiction course I took a couple of years ago when I was pursuing my PhD. It was a little vampire tale with all sorts of sexual allusions and innuendo but it, too, had been lost to time and to the refuse of my harddrive.

While I enjoy both stories, it makes me think of the fight between being a REAL Writer and being a Genre Writer.  As a young child, I had been a big reader and writer. An only child, living in the middle of nowhere, it was really the only option before the proliferation of the internet and cable/satallite television. Unfortunately, it was a habit that elementary school fairly drummed out of me. What really drew me back into the fold was genre writers; it was Stephen King and Michael Cricton. Enjoying reading again was something they jointly gave back to me.

But, despite my debt to them and the great amount of joy I got and get from their work, why don’t I take my genre works more seriously? The two little horror stories I wrote I enjoy immensely but they haven’t been something I have given the sort of importance I give other works – despite the fact that they may be two of my better crafted works.

So what does this mean that I have sort of, maybe, kinda turned my back on a type of fiction I enjoy? I may have slipped into snobbish elitism, the inevitable result of too many lit courses and too many encounters with other would be Serious Writers. Or maybe my tastes since my re-introduction to the writing world have gradually widened to the point where I simply write what I want now and try to ignore having my work split into categories while also being aware that to be published within a genre has a definite risk of pigion holing me in that genre for eternity. After all, I still find copies of Motherless Brooklyn tucked away next to Amnesia Moon in the sci/fi section.

And I’m still thinking about writing about a storm.