Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Limits of my Genre Interest

I started, and put down, Anathem by Neal Stephenson last night. I gave it my best shot, but after two hundred pages there was nothing to keep me interested.

Two things about this book jumped out at me. The first was the "Note to the Reader" written by the author. It was essentially a set of guidelines on how to read this particular book. The inclusion of such a message is when I felt the first tendrils of dislike latching onto my put-this-book-down gene. Those used to reading speculative fiction and figuring things out were encouraged to skip over the message, and so I did. It was the inclusion of the message to the benefit of everyone else that worried me.

How exclusive is such a message? How elite is a book such as Anathem that a reader unaccustomed to reading science fiction may need, 'assistance' in getting through. If such assistance is needed, what is to be said for 'enjoyment?'

Perhaps, readers unaccustomed to the argot, history, and personalities within the world of classical music and politics concerning Western Europe during both World Wars shouldn't read The Spanish Bow by Andromeda Romano-Lax. Or perhaps it is a testament to the Romano-Lax's writing that a neophyte in all those areas can read, understand, and enjoy the book with out the need of an outside reference. (The Spanish Bow, is a purely random example, the first book I saw, when glancing at the books shelf.)

The second issue I had with Anathem was the inclusion of a glossary. The first book that I can recall reading that included a glossary of terms was The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan. I also remember not knowing the glossary was there until I finished the book and was left wondering what the last twenty pages were. I didn't use the glossary. I read the book in a few short days and was able to keep all the information straight in my mind, and furthermore, there was nothing foreign presented that I was unable to figure out with context.

Is there a better way to detach your reader from the story you are telling then by making them rely on a glossary of terms? It is particularly frustrating when a standard English word is re-assigned a definition at the whim of the author. Gene Wolfe has a particular gift for what people often perceive to be the art of "making words up." But he relies on context, an astute reader, a multitude of world language idioms to make himself clear; not a glossary.

I think this is one of the reasons I tend to walk softly upon hardcore sci-fi and fantasy. If you're going to invite me into your world, make sure the primer is thin and readily understandable. In short I felt there was a learning curve to merely open the book. Perhaps, I'm not cunning enough to enjoy what was given, but for me, the price of admission was too high.

After all that, I can't bring myself to part with this book. I'll give it another try sometime down the line, and perhaps have a wholly different experience and resend my current sentiments expressed here. But for now, this is strike one...

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