Thursday, August 18, 2005

Books read and some gripes

At the recommendation of a colleague, I recently read a couple of
novels by China Mieville. Specifically, Perdido Street Station
and The Scar, and then, just like every else in the world, I
read the new Harry Potter.

The China Mieville novels are highly recommended. He imagines a rich
and compelling world and unlike some other fiction that focuses
heavily on the mileu, he manages to execute good stories in this
elaborate world. I liked them both, but found Perdido Street
more satisfying.

J.K. Rowling remains a good writer who writes engaging characters and
enjoyable stories, but this latest book was a bit of a disappointment.
It wasn't bad, but I think it's probably my least favorite of the Harry Potter series so far.
I'll comment below in more detail.

(The following paragraphs contain some spoilers for The DaVinci
, Footfall, Lucifer's Hammer, The Half-Blood
, and the film and book Return of the King.)

While talking to the above-mentioned colleague, I realized a quality
of many books and movies that I find increasingly unpleasant; I don't
like it when a narrative, especially one which supposedly tells a
story of momentous events, ends with the world the same as it started.
Recent offenders include notably The DaVinci Code and the
Return of the King. The DaVinci Code I didn't like for
a variety of reasons, and the fact that the state of the world is
essentially reset by the end of the book just enhances my irritation
at it. In the LOTR movie though, it was one of the only
disappointments. At many levels, I actually feel the movies exceeded
the books. But, the elimination of the scouring of the Shire, however
"hollywood", felt like the only major disappointment to me. In the
books, the world was saved, but the world was changed, pervasively.
In the movie, not as much. Oh well. In contrast, other novels I
enjoyed a great deal such as two of my favorites by Niven,
Footfall and Lucifer's Hammer end in a very different
places than they started.

In a book or movie, particularly science fiction and epic fantasy, the
world can change, and you don't have to worry about the "next
episode". In a TV show, the "reset" effect is often a necassary
premise given the episodic nature of the medium. Some TV shows in
recent years have done an especially good job of moving the story
forward while at the same time, providing enough of a weekly "reset"
that you can get away with missing episodes, but are additionally
rewarded for following the story in detail. In books or movies this reset
is unnecassary and disappointing.

The Half-Blood Prince doesn't fall victim to this, fortunately,
but the book is a bit heavy on the exposition. It felt like very
little happened and when it finally did, it was a little uncomfortably
rushed. Further, what plot there was felt even more contrived than it
often is. Plus, as many others have mentioned, the book read like
part one of two, while most of the previous books have stood alone far

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