The Account of a Lifetime

November 3, 2009

Pick & Choose

Filed under: Books & Media,Cogitations — xisor @ 10:47 pm

This is likely another book-centric post, but don’t worry!

I find that I enjoy most of what I read. The only notable exception in recent years has been Dan Abnett’s Brothers of the Snake. I feel a bit rubbish saying it, but I really dislike it. I can’t get into it. Each time I try…gah. It’s like I have a mental block on it, except that when I read it my dislike feels sensible. And it’s a shame too, I really rather enjoy much of Abnett’s stuff. (Legion for example, remains a firm favourite in my esteem.)

However, I think there is a telling element here. My ‘critical eye’ is quite forgiving of mistakes and errors. I can happily read a novel which has tons of mistakes in it, but I can excuse them if it features a lot of likeable ideas.

If memory serves, Aaron D-B ‘dislikes’ the method for which many people praise McNeil’s Mechanicum, on the basis that the ‘lore nuggets’ outweigh the strength (or weakness) of the writing.

I find myself straddling such a divide. Whilst my ‘inner fan’ is absolutely fond of lore nuggets and their appearance, such temporary enjoyment (excluding the fan frittering of things away on the internet) is really underwhelming. A damn fine book like Legacy or Death World mark themselves out, for me, not by the maddening ‘revelations’ which appear in them but by the sheer delightfulness of reading them.

Legacy sits premier in my mind. It contains some lovely revelations and deals nicely with 40k’s ‘Future History’ feel. It, like the ‘Astartes Classics’ (Angels of Darkness, Storm of Iron and Lord of the Night), are marked out not by their revelations, but by combining the revelations with a remarkable story (and unusually decent writing).

I’ve found myself amidst a couple of these styles of books recently. The Imperial Guard Series, basically! Parker’s Rebel Winter had me engrossed. I felt he failed a little to really draw the Vostroyans out from a ‘planet of hats’ culture, but I also felt it remained an excellent book. The characters were characterful, the interactions dynamic and the plot quick enough to hold interest whilst being suitably un-convoluted to not be irritating.

The second was Parker’s other book Gunheads which I’d say was even better. It delved even further into good characterisation and an engaging plot, but had sprinkled throughout the novel setting of a tank company and some absolutely well-crafted lore. (Not just lore nuggets.)

Advancing beyond that I’m almost finished Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Cadian Blood. Now, this is a worrying one for me, as I feel very tempted to liken the book’s writing to…JK Rowling and Douglas Adams. Both highly successful authors, but not highly regarded for technical skill.

I do, however, think D-B has that skill, but that within the book there is a certain, measured disregard for convention. It is a conversational style, an informality and even whimsy which isn’t at all as bad as the description connotes. If I were to pick another BLP author (for sake of familiarity), I’d have to go straight out and say Gordon Rennie.

This is in stark contrast with, say, Nick Kyme or Gav Thorpe whom I feel read as very formal writers. There’s conventions, there’s skills and tricks and techniques not necessarily to be obeyed but which can be respected and used as powerful tools. With Cadian Blood I find a very different style of author.

Better and Worse

As the title of the post indicates: I pick and choose when it comes to value judgements; this means I’m hardly an objective measure but someone who has an idea of my tastes, my values, my ‘standard’ can translate it into something more easily compared.

In reading Cadian Blood I find it very enjoyable. There’s a wholesome meshing of ideas and a very enjoyable style which weaves together with decent (if irregular) plotting and a slightly chaotic (one might say ‘real’) feel for the prose. It jumps about, the focus changes mid-chapter and so forth; it’s chaotic to read. But this doesn’t lessen its effect or detract in much of a noticeable way, at least not for myself.

Something useful

Well, it’s really just a rambling commentary, all told. Recently I finished Gunheads and am about to finish Cadian Blood. Both are exceedingly good in my mind. Both bode well for next year’s contributions to BLP fare; Aaron’s Horus Heresy book (which I tentatively hope might be about the Raven Guard) and Steve’s upcoming Fear the Xenos short (and his considerably longer Rynn’s World).

In other news, I’ve probably left St Andrews for the last time. In doing so I also started rereading Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy but necessity required I read smaller books too; it’s a big hardback and just means reading can be awkward.

Over the weekend I was also The Ninth Doctor. Currently Paul McGann is in Poirot on TV. I do like Paul McGann; but I had to become more Christopher Eccleston. It was Halloween weekend, so I don’t begrudge the loss of my fringe (indeed, I had to artificially recede the hairline) as it meant I could compel myself to buy a lovely brown-cord Trilby. I’m confident it’ll look silly, but better than my own hair.

Now you’ve lost me

Then let me end it. CM: I’ve read Fallen Angels, one of the most technically enjoyable books of the Horus Heresy, but Abnett’s Horus Rising remains my interior favourite. Particular scenes however, given that I pick-and-choose things, stand out far-and-above. Fallen Angels falls short on the list in this regard. The Dragon’s Prison in Mechanicum, Chapter 7 in Legion, the discussion between the Dark Angel and White Scar in Descent of Angels and so forth.

There are elements of books, even ones which I know in my head to be a bit lacklustre, which I utterly adore. To hit a point, Goto’s Death Watch books are excellent examples. I really dislike the writing style (similar to Aaron D-B’s, but it simply doesn’t work very well to my palate unlike Aaron’s) but there is a scene wherein the team argue about their primarchs and chapters. Sheer joy. I love it. But the rest of the books are quite forgettable.

Still, I don’t read to excellent stories, they’re just the icing on the cake. The ideas, the clever thoughts and nice crafting; that’s what’s interesting to me.

It’s also why I clog up this place with such tripe. Nice ideas, the chance to think about things. Why read other than for that?

(Well, some folks like a good story, some folks like a nice image. But I’m there for the idea. Getting extra bits is difficult. Now, why-oh-why didn’t Graham McNeil make the Kaban Machien the Guardian of the Dragon, hmmm!?)

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