Tuesday, November 11, 2008

This Week's Reading

I set down Delany for a few days (in the midst of Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand). I generally don't take a break from a book midway but I had two other pressing priorities.  The first was that I needed to catch up on the old horror movies that I had DVRed on TMC on Halloween night. They featured older films based on HP Lovecraft stories.  I had never before seen Die, Monster, Die!, a film based on the story "The Colour Out of Space." It is fantastic, particularly during its climactic sequence.  The second thing that took me away from Delany was that I needed to study some pages of Gene Wolfe's New Sun books in my ongoing effort to figure out exactly how it is that he conveys such an intense atmosphere of weirdness and ancient decay.  I am trying to achieve something like it for a scene in Current Project and I will freely admit that I would blatantly and shamelessly rip off Wolfe's style for it if I could just figure out what the hell it even is.  When I dissect the words and sentences, the mood lifts and seems not so special anymore.  When I just slip back into casual reader mode and take it all in, then the mystery returns.  Take, for example, this passage from Shadow of the Torturer:

"The shore on which the averns grew was less marshy than the other. It seemed strange, after having walked on buoyant sedge and floated on water for so long, to set foot again on soil that was no worse than soft. We had landed at some distance from the plants; but we were near enough now that they were no longer a mere bank of white, but growths of definite color and shape, whose size could readily be estimated. I said, 'They are not from here, are they? Not from our Urth." No one replied; I think I must have spoken too softly for any of the others (except perhaps Dorcas) to hear." [page 148, Orb Edition]

Taken out of context, it is as ordinary a few lines of text as anything can be in a Gene Wolfe story, yet taken in--swallowed whole even--along with what comes immediately before and immediately after it, it's a piece of the ambience of danger and the weird that pervades every page of the tale. It's as if it can't be broken down into its elements.  I really can't get enough of Gene Wolfe, but I am going back to Delany now since I am still in the process of undoing the huge blunder of not having read him earlier in my life.

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