Friday, August 6, 2010

Lisa's Second List of Stupendous Literary Stuff

If you missed it, see here for LFLFLF (the first list). Now on to LSLSLS:

I love them on film. I love them in writing. Can't think of any I've loved in song.... I love how in a good dystopia, you can see how we could get from, say, a rising trend in fundamentalism right here, right now to The Handmaid's Tale. It's not surprising that I love dystopias, given that I love retellings from a different perspective (see LFLFLF). That's what I think a dystopia really is: it retells our present from the perspective of our future.

Favorite examples:
Oryx & Crake - Margaret Atwood. Full of amazing detail and research, and of course, amazing writing. Full of tough, tough stuff that usually I wouldn't be able to immerse myself in, but I was completely pulled in by her complicated characters. There's no simple good vs. bad here. Only lots of hard questions and fallible humans. This is the first in a series. The second, The Year of the Flood, is on my soon-to-be-read list.

Parable of the Sower - Octavia Butler. Devastating. Amazing. A very, very dark vision of our future as experienced by Lauren Olamina, a young, black girl who creates a new faith which holds Change as its core principle. As a friend of mine once said after seeing me reading a Butler novel: "Nothing like a writer of color to show us a devastatingly bleak future." I liked the second in the series, Parable of the Talents, less well. I think because it is slightly less bleak, and I could never figure out how we moved from the chaos of the first into the (relative, but still brutal) order of the second.

Things go Badly with the Best of Intentions
I like seeing how badly we can muck things up, especially when we're trying our very best to make things better. Again this connects to my love of dystopias, and my love of retellings from new perspectives. If we were omniscient maybe we wouldn't make the mistakes we do, but because we're often trapped in our own limited perspective we get ourselves into lots of trouble.

Favorite examples:
The Sparrow and Children of God - Mary Doria Russell. You need to read both of these to get the full effect of the stunning miscommunications and misunderstandings between a Jesuit interplanetary expedition and the two species they encounter on Rakhat. A splendid, cautionary, anthropological tale.

Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card. Another cautionary, anthropological tale. When the pequeninos try to honor the xenologers later on in the series? Now there's a misunderstanding. A while back, Scribblerati were talking books, and Ender's Game came up. And I asked, all naive-like, about it. And Shawn said, "Oh, you really should read it; it's one of the classics of Sci-Fi." And although he said it in the nicest, non-shaming way, I thought "I am not worthy. I have not read the classics...I do not yet deserve a geek-grrl badge of honor...." But lo and behold, as I started to create my list of books that have inspired my writing, Ender's Game was right at the top. I read it long, long ago, and my mind wanders back to it often. But did I remember the title? or the author? No, I did not. After a bit of web searching, it all fell into place: I AM worthy, I DO deserve a geek-grrl badge...the badge of forgetfulness.

Unreliable Narrators
Narrators who don't know the whole truth. Or who won't tell you the whole truth. I guess I like being messed with a bit, but only when I know full well that I'm being messed with. There's something special, I think, about a narrator who has a bit of character, some flaw or feistiness to them.

Favorite example:
We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson. You probably had to read "The Lottery" in High School. Castle is Jackson's brilliant novel. Narrated by Merricat, now an 18-year-old, who lives alone with her reclusive older sister, Constance, and ailing uncle, Julian. Merricat just might be magical, just might be insane, and just might have poisoned the rest of her family as a child when she was sent to bed without dinner. I love the slippery feeling I get reading this;I'm wrapped up in Merricat's perspective, but because her narrative is unreliable, I'm never on secure footing. But that's a good thing. A very good thing.

So how did the above influence my WIP? Once We Were Bears isn't a true dystopia, but it does have three Armageddons. And because I've loved how Butler and Atwood take from the now to give me the future, I've pulled most of the dystopic elements straight from disturbing environmental news stories I've heard on NPR. Next, although Beryl keeps destroying the world, she has the best intentions: to save her beloved wilds for the Animal Nations. But, oh my dirt clod, does she make some mistakes along the way. (Did I mention the Armageddons?) Finally, while Beryl's not the novel's narrator, she is an unreliable diarist. She just doesn't understand the limits of her own understanding of the human world, or the likely consequences of her actions well enough not to be. (The actual narrator of the novel is a potato--I hope a potato with a lot of character.)


Mark Teats said...

Of the books on your list I've only read "Ender's Game" but it remains a favorite of mine. The copy I have came to me thanks to a man who liked it so much he always carried around a copy to give away! (And I haven't parted with mine--it's a keeper.) Once again I now have more books to add to my "must read" list. When to find the time....

Shawn Enderlin said...

yah, I really do try to be polite while shaming people!