Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Book review: _Idlewild_, by Nick Sagan
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
[spoilers behind a cut, but might show up in comments also]

This book was lent to me by londo. I'm not entirely sure *why*, as he didn't actually *recommend* it, but I read it anyways. I'm not going to particularly recommend it either, but I do have some hopefully interesting things to say about it.

My first, gut reaction was the same reaction I had to the film Fight Club: "Boy, when I was a nihilistic teenager, I would have *loved* this. But now, it's... eh." Almost all the characters are 18-year-olds, and quite realistically drawn. But I'm pushing 40, and a lot of that sort of viewpoint strikes me as shallow these days. So I guess I recommend this to any teenage nihilists who happen to be reading my LJ.

I used to really like the "amnesiac protagonist wakes up" method of starting a story. Heck, I've used it myself (in Tabula Rasa). But I think I may have seen enough of it by now. Yes, it lets the author gracefully let the reader learn about the world along with his protagonist. Only the protagonist is not only amnesiac, but kinda dumb. I saw all the major plot twists coming several chapters ahead of him. He never even figures out the villain's motivation, despite the author practically spelling it out. Also, it makes almost *any* plot details a spoiler, which is why I'm not giving many here.

[Digression: The relative knowledge of the reader and the viewpoint character are tricky to keep balanced properly. If the viewpoint character figures things out before the reader has any real chance to, the reader feels dumb (Sherlock Holmes is a frequent offender in this regard). Conversely, if the reader figures things out considerably ahead of the viewpoint character (as happened in this case), that makes the viewpoint character seem dumb, and thus less interesting to the reader. The ideal case is when the reader realizes something of significance *just* before the viewpoint character, by maybe one or two pages; this makes the reader feel clever but does not devalue the cleverness of the protagonist. Of course, different readers have different levels of cleverness, so calibrating this is very subjective. I find that, for me, Lois McMaster Bujold is best at producing this result.]

Okay, there are some spoilers below.

Part of the plot features an Earth where humanity has been almost completely wiped out by a plague. The idea of a world with no (or nearly no) people in it is one that turns up again and again in SF. The nature of the apocalypse changes, but lots of people are apparently fascinated with the idea of an Empty Earth.

When I was young (even before I was quite "nihilistic teenager"), one of my favorite daydreams was having some sort of access to a parallel world that had no people in it. There, I could take any physical object I wanted to: food, candy, cars, porn... There were a number of variations, but that was the basic thrust.

I've spoken with a few other people who enjoy "end of the world" stories, but I'm wondering how prevalent it is. How many people actually have it as some sort of positive fantasy? In fiction, the vanishing of all the people is always (AFAICT) presented as some great tragedy. But I suspect that a story that treated it more as wish-fulfillment might be quite successful...
Tags:

  • 1
If the viewpoint character figures things out before the reader has any real chance to, the reader feels dumb (Sherlock Holmes is a frequent offender in this regard).

Which is precisely why the viewpoint character is Watson, nicht wahr? Who's fairly dim compared to Holmes, but not much dimmer than we are, given how few hints Holmes a/o Conan Doyle drop.

*blink*

Quite right. Now I feel less clever than you :)

Often what works well is for the reader to get the information before the protagonist, then they can figure things out, and feel smart, and when the protagonist gets the information, they can be smart by getting it right away.

Or have the protagonist try to understand something which is completely beyond their experience, but easily recognizable to the reader. Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman books do this well. (And I'd dearly love to see more protagonists who are both intelligent and honest at the same time.)

Conversely, if the reader figures things out considerably ahead of the viewpoint character (as happened in this case), that makes the viewpoint character seem dumb

This is the main problem I had with Paradox in Oz: Ozma, dealing with time travel, turned out to be a major ditz. She never did get a grip on the difference between personal time and historic time. It might be OK for a kid that had never read a time travel book before, but it was serious eye-rolling territory for me.


Re: Stupid characters

Well, remember that Ozma, as a character, essentially *is* "a kid that had never read a time travel book before". At any rate, that aspect didn't bug me.

  • 1
?

Log in

No account? Create an account