books 2011

    Tell, and Maybe Show as Well

    Prospective -- or actual -- writers are always given the advice, 'show, don't tell.' It's considered to be more engaging as a storytelling technique to let your reader know what's happening by letting them experience it via the experiences of your characters, rather than merely informing them what happens to your characters.

    Good enough advice, in general. But there are always counterexamples.

    This morning on the way to work I read a story on Tor’s website, which is almost entirely telling; and almost entirely wonderful.

    Six Months, Three Days’, by Charlie Jane Anders. Highly recommended.

    Moxyland, by Lauren Beukes

    Lauren Beukes has just won the Clarke Award with her Zoo City. Congratulations to her, and all.

    I just finished reading her Moxyland, which I was given at last year’s Eastercon, and… I’m not so impressed.

    Strange Horizons has a good dual review of it. I kind of enjoyed it, especially towards the end. But in many ways I found it annoying, and I’ve been trying to work out exactly why that is.

    Part of it is the characters, I think. I don’t mind unsympathetic — even unpleasant — characters. But I think the main problem with these ones is that it’s hard to tell their voices apart, and since the story is told from multiple first-person viewpoints, that’s a problem.

    But I think the biggest point of disconnection for me was technological: there is one particular item that made my disbelief-suspension system collapse in despair.

    Because I can easily believe in a near future where your phone takes the place of both credit cards and cash, where it is the heart and soul of your identity, and to be disconnected would make you an unperson. But even supposing that phones could be engineered to give their owners a taser-like shock at the command of any police officer (what if your battery is low?); even supposing that a society would not rise up in protest at the madness of a government requiring its citizens to possess such a thing; and even supposing that it all worked: I can’t believe that nobody would carry them in thick rubber pockets.

    So in the end, in a novel containing much about political activism, it’s the political acquiescence of its imagined society that crashed me out of the story too often.

    Still, it was her first novel, and shows much promise, so I expect that Zoo City will be a worthy winner.