An aside: this last weekend, Chris and I went and saw the movie of Phillip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly in Santa Cruz on Thursday and Shakespeare’s play Timon in Athens in Carmel, spanning nearly four hundred years of literature. They are both stories of people unraveling and seeing the ugly underpinnings (or not?) of reality. Does this have anything to do with Dragonflight?
No, unfortunately. Here’s why I dropped Dragonflight: as I was reading it, I had to go back and see if this book was actually on any “100 Best Lists.” I had been interested in reading it because it was on lists, because I had read it when younger (sixth grade, maybe?) and hadn’t liked it and thought I might like it now. I was also intrigued about the author’s allegations that it is science fiction, and not fantasy as so many people claim. Lastly, McCaffrey had written Restoree specifically as a response to dumb female characters in 50s and 60s science fiction: I was interested in seeing how her protagonist dealt with female stereotypes in this story.
Reading it some three decades later, I still hate it. A fantasy setting would have served just as well as would have the science fiction story, which tells me that this is not terribly strong science fiction. And Lessa, the protagonist, could single-handedly set back women’s rights by several hundred years. Yes, this book is on best lists – which completely befuddles me. This book pretty much sets the definitive standard on how not to write. Let’s see if I can tick them off. (1) Don’t P’ut A’postroph’ees in Peo’ples’ Names (2) Don’t write a predictable, clunky romance (3) Don’t make a completely unlikeable protagonist (4) Don’t use Said Bookisms (5) Don’t let Words barf on your image. (6) Don’t use adverbs more than necessary. (7) Don’t spend a lot of time having characters do stuff while talking in the middle of dialogue. (8) Don’t have boring long stretches of action or dialogue and locomotion dialogue. (9) Don’t let your protagonist not get what the audience already takes for granted, (10) Don’t make up high-falutin’ names for horses and rats; just call them horses and rats... Never mind. I refuse to read farther. I wish the idea – dragons bonding to people who are guarding against ecological disaster – had been handed off to another author. Hmmm... maybe Russell Hoban, John Christopher, Madeleine L’Engle, or maybe even Philip K Dick. Do Dragons Dream of Sheep?
We’ll never know. My aside is over. On to The Dancers at the End of Time. This was a pleasure to read, with a better first half than the second half, but nearly redeeming – although nebulous – at the end.
The Dancers at the End of Time is about human civilization at the end of time who have complete domination over their physical environment. Conscience and goals are utterly a matter of choice and “taste,” not a matter of virtue or morals. It’s a lot of food for thought.
This book is good because it is a delight to never be quite sure what is going to be at the end of a sentence that Moorcock begins: “The locomotive steered a course for the tropics, passing through a dozen different skies. Some of the skies were still being completed, while others were being dismantled as their creators wearied of them.” This story is deeply creative at the level of a sentence. I also love that it has my favorite little hymn in it: God bless all creatures great and small...
This book is a little bad in that it closely aspires to the high surrealism of Fourth Mansions and What Entropy Means To Me in the first half – both of which I loved – but became much more realistic story in the second half. It was still good, but mundane in comparison to the first part. It failed to tie back into the first introduced theme of the end of time (but this is apparently part of a trilogy, so you know this all might be taken care of in a later book). The ending was also a little disappointing because I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. Still, I am mostly willing to follow the characters into the other books to see what happens. I would also be interested in reading the two other books of his that have hit “best” lists, Behold the Man and The Final Program. An interesting writer. Hmmm.
Write interesting sentences. Make sure your endings are clear to the reader. You don’t have to tell your reader what you mean in so many words, but the reader must understand what actually transpired.