Monday, March 19, 2012

Gareth Pugh shows, not tells.


As I was driving into the sunset this evening, and trying – and succeeding – to suppress a sneeze, I wondered how different drama would be if humans didn't sneeze.  Now I'm put on the spot, I can't actually recall the details of a single instance of a sudden sneeze giving away Our Heroes to the Bad Guys, but I know I've seen it a dozen times. And I think "see" is the right verb. I can't remember it on the written page at all. It seems to be a television trope of some sort.

Then again, even if I read it, since the bald words make no dramatic sense on paper, I would remember it in my mind as having "seen" it happen.

I did check TV Tropes, which knows everything, but it didn't come up with any examples that I would likely have seen, and mainly concentrates on the Gale Force Sneeze of Comedy, although they don't call it that.  



I'm reading a Space Opera, or at least trying to. It's by one of the second or third tier writers – I won't name her, as there's no point – so, not Lois Bujold or David Weber. I picked it up for a buck at the Friends of the Library bookshop for no real reason except the volunteer who runs the store on Saturday seemed depressed, so giving him something for his afternoon's work seemed like a win/win situation. It has a picture of a neat young woman in a uniform on the cover. She's firing a...blaster, I'm going to call it. Heavily armed humans are running towards her and there's a lot of superstructure and starlight suggesting Space. The title appears to be a pun, using a word for one's adversary with a present participle that can mean either  "about to kill" or  "about to marry". That tickled my warped fancy.  Perhaps there would be Romance and Shenanigans and Romps! With Space Battles!

So why am I bringing it up?

Because it's really, really, really, really boring. I have no idea how it could have been picked up by a publisher.

It's not boring in the sense that say, even the thought of Anna Karenina is, or War and Peace. It's boring because nothing is shown to happen.  It opens with the Captain waking up in bed – always a strong opener, I find – and on page 2, she goes to the Space Kitchen (they're called galleys, apparently) and is offered a breakfast of Space Egg Custard and a spoon to eat it with. She then talks about all kinds of things that happened in the past with a crew member, thinks about a lot of things that have happened in the past as well, and then decides she'd rather 'microwave' a Space Pot Noodle instead, so she throws the egg custard away (in a 'recycler').  The crew member tells her how to access her own brain  'implant'; there's more conversation and then she goes to Space Bed again.  Afterwards she has to pause to run her sheets through "the 'fresher cycle" but not to worry! Action-packedness will return! Soon she's... sitting at her Space Desk where she and her implant run through a battle that happened in the past. She thinks about it a great deal,  but eventually decides she needs to blow off steam, so she goes for a bout of Space Judo with a crewmember.  Then, until I drifted off, she either talked about the past with her crew members or thought about the past with the help of her implant.  All the while, the ship is nearing a star system. We know this because people mention it, or think about it, on occasion.

Two other books are mentioned on the back cover but a semi-careful perusal of all available blurb didn't say this was the second book in a series of three, or for that matter vice versa. Even if this is all recap, couldn't it be buried in something other than Brenda Starr dialogue?

After a really long while, one character (on a planet, natch) goes fly fishing and catches a trout, which she subsequently releases. There's no sign that it's a foreshadowing, mirror incident or metaphor. She just likes fly fishing. At least she's doing it in the present and it's described. She isn't simply talking about it with the other bloke who is fly fishing nearby.

I realize that "show, don't tell" is a massive cliché, and good writers are always finding ways to get around doing it. I think you have to master the showing first, then incorporate it into the telling later to be readable, though. Hundreds of pages of directly quoted speech, with a few paragraphs of wondering and remembering every few thousand words might possibly be thrilling, if the characters followed some other basic rules of drama. For instance, if you want to grip the reader, any given two characters have to want something different. They don't have to be hereditary mortal enemies (although it helps); they can be simply want slightly different outcomes.  Jim wants to go back to port before Dr. Badguy releases a plague that could sweep the planet where his family lives while Jack wants to continue in pursuit of the White Space Whale to avenge his father's death or something.  Tension, conflict, drama.

Like the scene where the two characters are fly fishing. One is a dry fly fisher and one is a wet fly fisher.

Conflict! Drama! Tension!

Well, not really.


I was listening to the BBC World Service today and they were reading a short story, New Gods by Joe Dunthorne. It's available here, at least for today.  It's about a daughter coping with the death of her elderly mother, whose online avatar is now left drifting in a MMOG, and whose dead father's personality has been uploaded to a service that spams her regularly in his voice, asking when she's going to pay to 'see' him again.  There's some good jokes: The online castle is being stormed by an army bearing a banner in Gothic Script, "Whoo Yea Gareth Pugh!" "Gareth Pugh is probably in his fifties now," the story goes on. "Perhaps a ruthless property developer."

When cyberspace fiction is podcast into the intertubes after debuting the same day on the positively steampunk valve radio of the World Service, it really is time to bury science fiction, I think.  I liked the story, don'ta getta me wrongo, but when perfectly mundane young men can get this story on the World Service, SF is probably so indistinguishable from background that you have to go hunt somewhere else.


2 comments:

Mike said...

Fatal Sneeze.

Star Wars written by Proust (In Search of Lost Time):
It was early morning on Yavin IV. Luke smelled the burnt bread and thought: "Toast, just like the Death Star..."

Rush followed by Space Opera made boring: Show and Tell.

Peromyscus said...

Is that a Les Paul Black Beauty? What a lovely guitar. Me like.

I'd forgotten the Ultimate Sneeze on ToP123 - thanks!

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