Thursday, March 09, 2006

Crime and science fiction

Light reading: Household deer This is an interesting (as ever) posting on Light Reading about crime and science fiction. The last paragraph, that is, the first part is about Jonathan Lethem, whom I know a lot of people (including Jenny D, author of this blog, and the "cool London" fraternity) enjoy and admire, but whom I could not get along with the one time I tried him. Jenny D says that she reads more crime than SF, which she puts down to there being more crime fiction out there, and hence better writers. She also almost says, but not quite, that the imagination involved in crime fiction is rooted in the rational wheras in SF is more fantastical. I don't know -- I like crime fiction but I am not sure why, becuase like anything else to do with self-analysis, one's capacity for self-delusion is limitless. I think the reason is that crime fiction is like a puzzle, and the puzzle drives the plot, providing a logical framework of progression for the reader. There is a sense of "working out the logic" to crime fiction that seems to me to be akin to the process of science (real science, not SF) -- which I can say, having been a scientist. Crime fiction always has a body or some gruesome aspect. I don't like this, especially when dwelt on, but on the other hand I like even less the subgenre called "cosy" in the USA, in which everything is bloodless (like the movie of Narnia, though I did quite like that despite its lack of even the tiniest bit of gore in the battles). But all that slow-mo chopping up of corpses in early Patricia Cornwell and most of Kathy Reichs -- forget it. Karin Slaughter gets the balance about right. I also find that as I get older my memory and concentration aren't as good as they were, and a book with a plot is good for those failings, compared with beautiful somewhat plotless writing that does not discernibly go anywhere, apart from this reader's mind wandering - a sad truth, but concentration is necessary to get the most out of these kinds of book. I'll have to return to this idea, as it's late and I can't keep my thoughts focused. I do think that SF appeals to young people (this is true for me, certainly), and is a "phase" genre -- once you've read a certain amount, can you read more of the same? SF is to me frustrating as it does not obey laws of Earthly logic, which make me comfortable and is one reason I like crime fiction -- on some level, the reader has to believe in the denouement. To return to writing ability, crime does, as Jenny D says, include some really rather good stylists, for example "Nikki French", Val McDermid, Ian Rankin et al. Of course there are masses of clunky examples too (like the dreadful "Dying to Tell" by Robert Goddard which I've just read and which is so bad in almost every respect possible I won't write anything about it as I could only be mean about it). There are also writers, like Jonathan Kellerman, who start out really rather good, but who succumb to fame and the pressure of churning out one (or two, more recently) a year -- and everything suffers: plot, writing style, characterisation, authenticity, etc. The extreme end of this scale is James Patterson, whose latest Alex Cross book (say) has no relation whatsoever to the first, apart from the names of some of the characters. To return to the topic when more awake/inspired.