Wednesday, 25 January 2006

The Stoning of Adam Roberts, Part II: Science Fiction and the Picaresque-esque Rich's characterization of Stone as a "Vancian picaresque" seems fundamentally sound to me . . . so long as you drop the "Vancian." Much as I appreciate Vance as a stylist, his novels lack the narrative drive and voyeuristic characterization typical of a picaresque. Without delving into the horrors determining whether the picaresque is a mode or a genre would entail, the two identifying characteristics of a picaresque are: a sympathetic rapscallion for a protagonist who moves from place to place as he or she (but really mostly "he") wears out his or her (ditto) welcome Simple enough? The picaresque allows an author like Henry Fielding—whose Tom Jones is considered the finest example of the picaresque in English—to forefront the novelty of places from which his pícaro is sequentially expelled while showcasing his authorial wit without falling into the trap of the modern picaresque-esque: the collapse of the protagonist into an authorial persona. Now I call this "modern," but it originates with the Romantic lionization of the author as life-experiencer extraordinaire. The prototypical contemporary picaresque-esque would be something like Kerouac's On The Road : an abundance of pointless movement by a narrator/author who's sympathetic without being particularly likeable. I have -esqued the picaresque here because On The Road points to the reasons why the picaresque cannot survive outside of science fiction anymore. How many millimeters of narrative distance does Kerouac establish between himself as author and Sal Paradise as narrator? Four? Fourteen? Metaphorical imprecision aside, Fielding never had to worry that people would mistake him for Tom Jones. Kerouac encouraged people to mistake him for Sal Paradise. The distance required by the picaresque is absent because "I Am Author Hear Me Roar" has become a defining assumption in contemporary literary fiction. Not so in science fiction. In Stone Adam is able to create a narrator for whom direct authorial identification begins as "unlikely" before quickly veering into "impossible." (Unless Adamette has something she would like to share with the class.) He estbalishes the distance necessary to create a viable picaresque narrator then proceeds to toy with the reader's sympathies for the better part of 316 pages. The tension between flat declarations of genocidal tendencies and the sympathy Stone's sharp and knowledgeable narrator provokes always resolves in favor of the latter over the former. We sympathize because facts are facts but people in piteous situations are people. In piteous situations. That Ae is a charming wit aids in this identification immensely. The identification is now with Adam via Ae's proxy. It is with Ae. Directly. Despite ourselves. To state something boldly: I believe this kind of narrative can only exist in science fiction novels now. (Prove me wrong. I dare you. And would appreciate the feedback.) I now yield the floor to commenters . . . since I think the sheer length of Rich's post may have dissuaded some people from commenting on it.
A True Story; or Oxymoronological Investigations I admit that watching me noodle around with oxymorona isn't quite what draws people here, but Typepad lost its head a little yesterday and wouldn't let me post anything new. If nothing else, however, you can see why that entry never made it all the way to the blog. Every week or so I would think of another oxymoron and incorporate it into the story. It was less of a post and more of a hobby. In other words, I'll resume stoning Adam tonight. (Because in the end, you and I both know you're here for the violence.) However, I'll leave my little experiment below the fold. You're more than welcome to edit sections of the text so to include more oxymorons I haven't thought of. (The result could be our very own Whole Family .) She left the industrial park, boarded the elevated subway and cursed that so-called benevolent despot for firing her. Spinning the fate of a company that'd grown smaller for the better part of a decade was hardly easy. Her assistant Jim had written a damned good speech, but that bankrupt millionaire whose benign neglect had put the company in jeopardy had rearranged Jim's talking points in some random order. She couldn't even understand it anymore. She thought aloud: "'Negative growth'? He's upset I didn't say 'negative growth'? I'll show that old boy negative growth!" Composing herself, she thought "Perhaps I shouldn't have insisted on reading from the original copy instead of the final draft." As the El pressed forward with deliberate speed she spoke to her reflection in the window: "You may be flat busted but you're a fighter. A light heavyweight, certainly, but a brawler. You won't end up in a mobile home eating freezer-burned White Castle Hamburgers. You're terribly good at what you do and if worse comes to worst you still look damn fine barely-clothed even if you are flat-busted. He can shove his business ethics and airline food and 'Bald is Beautiful' routine where no sun shines." She knew the odds of him finding a suitable replacement were astronomically small. Firing her was a calculated error that honest thief would regret in the near future. She'd write the true story behind that functional alcoholic's rise to power. She knew that since his idiot savant of a sister died the office had been in a state of organized chaos. It was an open secret that without Beth Ann around things would get pretty ugly pretty quickly. She should cash in before it became old news, she thought to herself as the train rapidly decelerated. She felt numb. As she walked into the bright night she felt cautiously optimistic about her future. She wouldn't crash land. She would don her designer jeans and make from this dark day a killing on the corporate memoir market. As she kicked aside the doorstop, she assured herself that this time the final version would be hers. Unfortunately God hated her. She died where she stood. Her...

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