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About Johnnemann

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  1. The Idle Book Club 2: Cloud Atlas

    That's a really good question. There are multiple facets, most of which are poor reasons. My strongest argument is that the overall framing device of the novel is reincarnation, which puts it in the speculative fiction realm for me. Even leaving that aside, it clearly presents some sort of alternate timeline extending into the past and future - aspects of alternate history in the Luisa Rey sections and obviously the futures shown by Sloosha's Crossing and the Sonmi stories. The spine of the story is built from the atoms of speculative fiction. As a reader, I'm also much more familiar with the expectations and conventions of science fiction - I read it much more than other genre fiction, and so I can pick up on the tropes Mitchell is using more easily. Argument from authority: the high priests and priestesses of science fiction have recognized their own and awarded it. If they can't spot science fiction, who can? (trick question). And then, yes, it presents a concrete vision of the future, and for anything that does that there's an argument for it to be speculative fiction of some sort. But really, I'd be willing to shrug and call it "literary fiction" just as easily, as long as the argument doesn't boil down to "it's good and serious and I like it and therefore it can't be genre fiction." (I am not accusing you or anyone else of this, of course - this is just the chip on my shoulder, again).
  2. The Idle Book Club 2: Cloud Atlas

    I'd agree with that, with the clarification that you mean "critical success" or something near it - perhaps something more nebulous, like artistic success. Playing to expectation would probably help to ensure commercial success in every area of fiction, literary fiction included. The real rare birds are those that manage to achieve both, of course. And I think that's why Chabon's examples of (artistic) successes are those that have a masterful knowledge of convention and expectation, and play with it while blurring boundaries. But I still don't think it's wrong to call Cloud Atlas science fiction, nor right to discount it on that basis. It's not a slavish execution of the tropes and conventions, but that simply means it's an exceptional example. Although I'll agree that arguing over whether a particular work fits into genre lines is largely pointless, despite the fact that I've just been doing it! I suppose I have a chip on my shoulder about the distinction between "serious" works and genre works, and especially people appearing to buy into that (to my mind) artificial divide.
  3. The Idle Book Club 2: Cloud Atlas

    Definitely. I was being snarky with my quoting above, but Chabon's main thrust in that article is that a lot of good fiction is what he calls "Trickster writing", skirting the boundaries of various genres, embracing some conventions while flouting others, and basically not being too concerned with where they fall. Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut, and Philip K. Dick are all writers that seem to fit in that category for me - but I would also unashamedly call their writing Science Fiction, even if it doesn't get marketed that way (well, I guess Dick does). I would also file lots of Cormac McCarthy under "Western", even if I don't like reading Louis L'Amour. A few months ago I was discussing Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union with my family, and my dad asked "Is it science fiction?" Instantly my mother and I both replied - she said "yes", I said "no". But of course I realized she was right - it's an alternate history, it just happens to blend detective fiction in there and be really, really well crafted. And of course it won a number of sci-fi writing awards... Speaking of, Cloud Atlas was shortlisted for both the Nebula and the Arthur C. Clarke awards ;-)
  4. The Idle Book Club 2: Cloud Atlas

    I was wondering about this, too! I have a great genre fiction anthology from McSweeney's, edited by Chabon, and his introductory essay is quite powerful. So Cloud Atlas obviously is not science fiction, because we are discussing it in the Idle Book Club. The Idle Book Club does not discuss science fiction, only serious works involving reincarnation, future dystopian societies, and post-apocalyptic life in the ruins of civilization. Edit: And, hilariously, I just realized that one of the stories in this anthology is actually by David Mitchell. I highly recommend the anthology, and not just for the introduction!
  5. The Idle Book Club 2: Cloud Atlas

    This discussion brought to mind Infinite Jest's naming of years after brands. That didn't bother me at all, and I think there's a few reasons why - it's near-present day, so the brands have more relevance anyway, but I think the main reason is that IJ doesn't seem to be trying to biuld a plausible future for us, it takes place more in an alternate-reality skewed world. Also, of course, it's aiming at satirical. Cloud Atlas, even with the whole Yerbas Buenas thing, still seems to be trying to take place firmly in our world and our timeline. And lastly, placing brands-as-nouns is sort of an all-in bet - it's much easier to believe that people would still be talking about Whoppers in the future than that they would have replaced "burger" or "sandwich" in the vocabulary. Still, though, I find it hard to believe that anyone in 2004 thought "ford" was going to be the dominant auto brand ever again, especially in Asia.
  6. The Idle Book Club 2: Cloud Atlas

    I just finished listening to the episode. I was eager to hear this one, because I had heard a lot of praise for Cloud Atlas going into it, but I was left distinctly underwhelmed by the book and wanted to hear what I had missed out on. The podcast failed to convince me that I liked it! But it did crystallize some reasons I had for my dislike. Firstly, I had picked up on the reincarnation idea even without hearing Mitchell's thoughts - I guess years of bad fantasy novels have attuned me to mystical glowing comet birthmarks and what they mean. It felt cheap. And, in fact, the entire framing device of connected lives felt cheap, also. As mentioned in the episode, the basic theme at the heart of the book is pretty trite, and for whatever reason I was unable to give it the pass that Chris and Sean could. This is going to reveal me as some sort of horrible elitist, but forgive me while I paint with a broad brush for a moment: the book felt like "pop-lit", one of those books that gets lots of coverage by book clubs and TV shows. It was too pat and simple of a takehome truth, and neither the writing nor the characters were complex enough to elevate it. It seemed to me as though every story was riddled with flaws: Frobisher's blatantly-telegraphed but entirely out-of-character love interest, deus-ex-machina in the pub scene Chris liked so much (which I agree was entertaining and cathartic, but was also far too neat and convenient to be believable). Cavendish's entire story seemed more pulpy than Luisa's, and the part set in the nursing home just seemed like a poor parody/imitation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Chris and Sean discussed the poor brand prediction of the corporate future section, but I also felt that was like reading a distillation of dystopian sci-fi rather than anything unique or particularly imaginative. I could go on, but suffice to say I had issues with every perspective. in addition, there were a few passages where the prose sung, but mostly the writing seemed merely competent. That makes it sound like I hated the book, which I didn't - it was fine, but certainly not great. My expectations were set high, however, and I don't feel as though I got the same sense of genius out of it as the podcasters did.