A is for Awkward (Anderson)

Everybody's doing it! Everybody's reading stuff—the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Bible, the Guinness Book of World Records, 100 books in one year—and then reporting on their experiences, so I'm going to do it too!

I'm going to try to read a book from each letter of the alphabet by an author that I have never read before.

The first book I tried to read was The Day of Their Return (1974) by Poul Anderson.

My Science-Fiction Encyclopedia (ed. John Clute) includes Poul Anderson under its 1950s time period. It states "no other SF author . . . has produced as much high-quality work, with such variety, and with such continued verve, for anything approaching the half century of constant endeavor that Anderson can boast" and "Anderson has written one of two bad books in his time, but then, he can afford to."

I guess I tried to read one of the bad ones.

Now, when it comes to fantasy and science-fiction, there is a debate between how much exposition one should give the reader upfront. Should one just dump the reader into the story or should one provide the reader with massive upfront exposition?

In The Day of Their Return, Poul Anderson opts for the "here's the deep end, have fun!" approach. And I respect that. But I didn't get so much as a life preserver for four chapters, and I really can't tread water for that long. In terms of pure incomprehensibility (who ARE these people?), The Day of Their Return makes War & Peace look like a "Dick and Jane" book.

I will grant that I'm not much for world fantasy or science-fiction, which The Day of Their Return is, but just compare Anderson to C.J. Cherryh (who does do world fantasy and science-fiction plus everything else). As far as I'm concerned, there's no contest. In her Foreigner series, Cherryh also throws you into the deep end, but she then tows you, subtly, with enormous expertise, through fascinating circumstances towards a fascinating denouement: clear and lucid--if only The Day of Their Return could say as much.

6 comments:

Joe said...

List the upcoming authors and get really bad advice on which books to read.

Kate Woodbury said...

I'm choosing as I go! "B" is for Balzac--I finished one novella out of a book of ten and decided to read another one: I guess I like him better than Anderson. (I'm not going to read all the novellas though.)

If you have any suggestions for C through Z, send them along! I'm selecting authors that I haven't read or been exposed to (for instance, I passed on Maeve Binchy for "B"--I haven't read Binchy, but I once read the book jacket of one of her books). I'm also sort of going for authors that I've wondered about--Anderson because he is a science-fiction writer; Balzac because he's one of those writers that people refer to in profound dramas.

a calvinist preacher said...

I'm assuming you mean fiction, particularly novels... Not knowing all of what or whom you've read it's rather difficult, but I'll give it a shot. Four of these are genre writers and two are more novel factories than authors by now, but their earlier work might fit what you're aiming for.

Clancy, Tom - one of the earlier books (Hunt for Red October or Cardinal of the Kremlin)

or...
Christie, Agatha

Ishiguro, Kazuo - I would find it hard to believe you've not read any of his work, but I don't recall seeing it referenced. Of course, I haven't read all your blog posts & comments, either...

Karon, Jan - Home in Mitford series. The earlier books in the series are the better ones. Kind of like a TV series that ran a few seasons longer than it should have.

Salvatore, R. A. - Writes a fantasy series that start out good but peter out by the time you get to the 5th or 6th book. Sells lots of 'em, though.

Kate Woodbury said...

Thanks for the suggestions!! I'm already a huge Agatha Christie fan, and Clancy falls into the "I've been exposed" category. (I read most of Hunt for Red October when the movie came out. I love the movie--I wasn't too crazy about the book. That might be one of those gal/guy things.) However, the others are definite possibilities. I should check out Salvatore. He's one of those writers I see around and think, I should try him but then never do!

Kate Woodbury said...

And I am sticking to fiction! Perhaps, after this, which may take awhile, I'll do fiction by Dewey Decimal number :)

a calvinist preacher said...

OK, well...

My daughter has been reading a lot of Georgette Heyer lately. I'm not sure - she reads your blog, so maybe you even put her on to Heyer?

While we're in "H", Heinlein's Starship Troopers and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress are interesting. The movie made from the former was horrid beyond belief - the screenwriter should be shot.

Leif Enger's Peace Like a River is superb. I haven't gotten to his more recent novel, though.

Hope that makes up for Clancy. :-)