Books as remembered (poorly) by me, Part 1

I like talking about books, so I'm going to do that for a while. You could call what I'm about to do an Appendix N, but let's not. That term holds no meaning to me, I never saw the Appendix N when it came out and only learnt about it from other people whispering about it in corners. Spurred on by their hushed tones I found a digital copy of it and was shocked at how tiny and narrow it was. It's called a bibliography.

So here's part 1 of my annotated bibliography. I'll spare the waffle and just serve the meat.

Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe looms large in my lizard brain. Where there should be fight or flight responses and the urge to feed and fuck, I have the need to be Gene Wolfe.

Recommended reading:

Book of the New Sun
Latro in the Mist
Wizard Knight

All of these books are written as artefacts, two diaries and one long letter. All have unreliable narrators. Severian in Book of the New Sun is moving through a world that is as weird as anything on Dying Earth, yet we aren't given a proper look at it because that's just how it is for Severian. Everything is filtered through someone to whom this is normal or only slightly odd, leaving us wondering what's really happening. On top of this we also have the "translation" performed by Gene Wolfe, who claims the book is a found text which has to be very generously translated because of a lack of better words for such alien things. Many of these approximations are very weighted classical Greek references that reward knowledge of them.

These are all interesting things.

Both Latro and Wizard Knight are probably better written works, tighter and more disciplined. Each experiments with form in interesting ways, Latro is writing the diary because he forgets everything each morning. He is the opposite of Severian, being pure eyes for us to see through. The reader is more informed of what is happening than that poor fellow is, we having the ability to contextualise what he is writing.

Wizard Knight has the least experimental form: a letter written to his family back in the mundane world explaining why he isn't coming home. A portal fantasy, which is rare nowadays in adult fiction. This book is subtle and doesn't lean so heavily on classical references, instead creating an internal folk lore that requires extreme attention to unravel.

Of the three, Book of the New Sun is the undoubted king of influence. I read it at a formative time, way back when I started writing properly, and it has embedded itself. Every bit of literature, poetry or RPG thing that I do is held up against this book and judged. There are other books (as we might see later) that have had a more profound impact on a fundamental creative level, none have come close to the consciously chosen influence this has.

What did I learn?

  • It is okay to not make sense, to be obscure and referential. You don't need to lead the reader by the nose or particularly help them in any way.
  • Experimental forms can work if you throw everything in to them. We are not just making lists of facts to be absorbed, we can make things that tickle at an obtuse angle.
  • Narrators matter. Even in RPG books, a narrator is a choice that we make. 
  • Create the weird as though it is part of the furniture. Do not point.
  • It is okay to have a full three act play in the middle of your work.
  • Be weird, but have a logic to it. Even if only you know how it connects, it should connect.
  • Be unapologetically literate.
  • Anti-intellectualism and pop-cultural absorption is a choice, so make it or don't. Don't allow yourself to be washed along because that's how it's done.
  • Foreshadowing and slow realisation is the greatest thing. When weeks later a player goes "Oh my shit..." and links everything together in a montage of paranoia, then you have Gene Wolfed them.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome food for thought as this harried GM constantly struggles with putting flesh on my campaign's bones.