More Readerly Detours – But Not Much Writing

old fashioned woman reading 2I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately.  Also learning Spanish.  Two things that have nothing, necessarily, to do with writing.

Yep, I’ve been in a slump for the past number of weeks.  I hear my husband click clacking on the computer keys and feel . . . like picking up a book or my kindle and reading some more.  His writing output which right now is prodigious doesn’t necessarily spur me on to writing productivity.  In fact, I feel a bit depressed about the whole thing.

Oh well.

I don’t think the Spanish helps with the writing, but I suspect the reading does.  I know I mentioned that I had discovered J.A. Konrath by finding kindle bargains on  He’s a terrific mystery writer, if you like that sort of thing.  Which I do!

I’ve always been a fan of mysteries.  Yesterday at my in-laws, we got on the topic by a circuitous pathway, of where we’re headed on a quickie vacation week after next.  “Pismo Beach,” I said.  And then I remembered Joe Friday’s sidekick on Dragnet – and this was his favorite place to escape from LA., too.  Who was the sidekick?  Harry Morgan played Bill Gannon, the perfect foil for Jack Webb’s deadpan Joe Friday. But this funky memory of Pismo Beach led me to remark that I’d loved Dragnet as a child and that this probably was the reason I loved police procedurals as an adult (yes, I’ve saturated myself in the Law & Order franchise, even watching the British version, so there.)

One summer I read all of Raymond Chandler – even the Black Mask stories.  I must have been in college when I did that and it was an effort to find everything, since this was a few years before the internet.  Yes, I’m that old.  Stop it.

But anyway – mysteries are my all time favorite genre of fiction.  Second to that is probably the more literary fiction and third, I’m embarrassed to admit this, is chick lit.  Well, no need to be embarrassed, right?  Okay, yeah, I guess there’s a reason to be a little teensy weensy bit embarrassed.  A lot of it isn’t that great.  But a lot of genre fiction from a literary standpoint isn’t that great.  What IS great is the story.  The plot.  The characters that you learn to love or hate – or both.

So . . . one of the genres that I’ve never really been able to connect with much is science fiction.

Another detour.  About a year and a half ago my son said I had to read Game of Thrones.  I tried.  I read the first ten or twenty pages – and I hated it.  It was confusing.  It was “dark” and well, confusing.  I couldn’t imagine it as I was reading and that’s fatal for this reader.  When I pick up a book, if I’m going to be captured by it, I can imagine the scene in my mind.  I’m a pretty visual thinker, so this is how it works for me.  Your mileage may vary if you’re a more kinesthetic or auditory thinker.

Well, with GoT, I was just lost.  And the premise of supernatural stuff happening . . . I just couldn’t get it, no matter how much my son tried to talk to me about it.

Then I had occasion to see the first episode on HBO.  It was great!  For the first time, the scene was alive and visual and I decided to give the book a second try.

And this time, with some visual help from the TV show, I got into the book, and I got captured and finished all five books in short order.

So even though fantasy is not a genre I generally like – I was able to fall in love with A Song of Ice and Fire  – after some help.

Same with horror – not a genre I generally like, but I’ve found Stephen King to be a pretty decent author of it.  I started out with The Stand and again, I read that when the TV mini-series was showing (this is years ago.)  I recognized it was a basically religious story, so that helped me with it, too.

But I have very little interest in a lot of King’s work.  I’ve read Misery which has no supernatural stuff in it, and about a year ago I read 11/22/63 which has a time travel device, but is essentially an historical novel about the Kennedy assassination (in case you didn’t catch the date.)

Now I’m at the beginning of The Shining.

About six months ago we watched the Kubrick film of the book, and even though I saw it ages ago, it felt very fresh to me.  It’s an interesting film but I can also see why King didn’t like it much.  I’ve also seen the TV mini-series that was done a few years ago which is truer to King’s vision of his own story.  It was also good, but visually it didn’t pack the punch of Kubrick’s version.

So I decided to try the book myself.  And I’m loving it.  Yes, it’s got a supernatural theme in it but to me it’s the story of an alcoholic writer which in all those permutations, holds a lot of interest to me, more than the supernatural stuff actually.

So back to science fiction.  After many detours.

Because I find it fun to tool around Kindle – I somehow stumbled upon a book with the curious title of Wool.  By an author I’d never heard of, Hugh Howey.  (For some reason, that name, Hugh Howey, reminds me of Sylvester the Cat lisping “Sufferin’ Succotash” – too much sibilance, I guess.)

Wool blew me away – and it’s science fiction.  Who knew?  I ended up reading in short order the remaining parts of the “Silo” trilogy, Shift and Dust.

Perhaps it was the knitting references that pulled me in.  The author originally self published Wool in small novella-like pieces – each titled for the handling of the substance of wool – “Proper Gauge,” “Casting Off,” “The Unraveling,” and “The Stranded.”  Only the first section, “Holston” has no sneaky references to knitting.  But it was the first section that totally grabbed me and hurled me into this dystopian future.

The other grabber was that there were strong female characters throughout.  The primary character is named Juliette (yes, after Romeo & you know . . .), but even besides her there are fully realized women in the Mayor Jahn, Shirly, Courtnee, Anna, Charlotte, and others.  One negative I had with the books, though, is that the bad guys are all men with the possible exception of Anna, who we aren’t sure of (of course she turns out to be a good person.)  That’s a weakness of the story – because this is a fairly egalitarian world he’s created, it’s entirely probable that women would be just as reprehensible as men at times.

The story has a few other plot weaknesses, but overall, it’s an engaging, fun read.  There’s plenty of twists and turns and “black moments” to keep you turning pages, or swiping them if you’re on a kindle.  But in the end, although not completely positive, there’s a nascent hopefulness that gives it a satisfying closure.

Although there is no supernatural element to the story, there is the use of science fact, stretched to logical, or at least possible, conclusions.   What if nanotechnology can be used as a weapon in warfare?  What if propofol became the newest psychotropic drug, used to erase painful, negative memories?  What if we had perfected the hibernation of people?  All of these pseudo scientific elements in the near future (although Wool and Dust take place in 2345, the second book Shift brings it back to 2049) form the backdrop for the actions taken.

It’s the Waking Dead, not the Walking Dead, but both are set near Atlanta.  And the waking are not “dead” exactly, just in the deep freeze for decades at a time.  And nobody remembers their recent past, their legacy, due to their water being “treated” with the memory erasing drug.  And when a group gets out of line or threatens to – they are dispatched via nanos that attack their bodily systems from the inside with no way to escape them.

Of course, people not being robots (at least not quite yet), some of them do the courageous thing – they don’t conform, they make trouble, they get sneaky and attack back – and in these books a lot of these courageous ones die for their trouble.   Our heroine, Juliette, survives although she pays a high price with loss of friends and lovers and a new, painful understanding of both her people’s legacy and their possible future, which is left a bit unknown.

All in all, a great read, even if – or especially if – you don’t like science fiction.