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Jupiter Magnified.

yesterday, i sat down and read jupiter magnified, a slim novella containing the fictional memoir of stina ekman and the unfinished collection of her poetry, poems about light. it's written by adam roberts, who has written the novels salt and on.

one of the things that i've grown accustomed too in the speculative fiction genre is hearing authors and readers claim that they just want the story told. now, hidden within this conversation, to me, at least, is the suggestion that anything outside the narrative of the story (save the queen, find the solution, whatever makes the characters move through the world) is not important. usually, this ends up as what i like to term no frills writing: bland and cheap. i don't know why people are attracted to what it, but they are, and it's pretty common throughout the genre; it's even been said to me that anything resembling a 'fancy' bit of writing should be cut out and replaced with a simpler, more workman like form. it does the same thing but it draws less attention to itself as it does is, i believe, the argument. now, obviously, one of the flaws for that argument is that different people have different ideas of what is fancy in writing, but still... it gets said and you can see the mentality throughout a lot of the speculative fiction genre. the amount of books i've read that just went along their narrative without one concern for the form of their prose is is, well... many.

(which is not to say that any other genre has a whole heap of better prose, i might add. frankly, it's entirely possible that crime fiction has the same conversation in it, but seeing as i don't spend much time in crime fiction circles, i can't say.)

jupiter magnified is a different book. it's a book where each of word is given a weight, a place within the text that mirrors the careful emphasis that much of poetry puts emphasis on the form. indeed, as you continue to read through the slim book, you are encouraged to treat the memoir much like a poem, to find the hidden meaning, the hints to the characters state, and what they are influenced by. the continual emphasis on the colours in jupiter, the red and brown especially, hint at a fascination of the narrator with flesh and life and death... and when you combine that hint with ekman's continual focus on her writer's block, and her inability to return to poems about light... and then link that to the huge shape of jupiter itself hanging in the sky around her, there comes a sense of being closed in, of life breaking down, of a world that has gotten out of her control and that everything in her life has become this huge, impossible thing, and all of this conveyed with the techniques found more commonly in poetry.

the story is secondary. personally, i would have been happier had roberts not explained the appearance of jupiter in the sky, and had he not included the final poem, which, sadly, brought back memories of the film contact to me. but this is a blemish, and only a faint one, and in the case of the final image, a blemish of my own making.

i get tired of hearing people say, 'i just want the story.' it's a boring statement that often leads to boring fiction, and which often fails to engage the mind, and instead opts to push it along until the next trolley comes by. there's so much of that kind of stuff around, on television, in movies... why make/demand it in fiction? but, hey, maybe it's just me. maybe i just feel cynical today. but there is more available to the author and the reader than what they are often given, and they should demand it.

Comments

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nick_kaufmann
May. 24th, 2004 08:26 am (UTC)
Right on. The plot of a novel or story may be what I remember best 10 years later, but it's the style it's written in that keeps me going or makes me put it down, that makes the story sing or stumble, and ultimately what makes me want to recommend it to others or not.
benpeek
May. 24th, 2004 05:36 pm (UTC)
too right. what's the point of having something interesting and cool and telling it like it's an instruction manual?

lately, i've been listening to a lot of poetry lecturers, cause of the course i'm tutoring in. the guy running it is a poet, so he focus' on it a bit in the course, and even though he's lost a bunch of people cause they're bored with it, i can't help but think these days that that attention to style and writing that poets pay is something that should be encouraged outside it. which isn't at all a big thought, but as i've gone along, i've thought to myself, why hasn't he linked this stuff to prose?

just a morning thought, i guess.
shadowsandice
May. 25th, 2004 01:09 am (UTC)
Well said.
benpeek
May. 26th, 2004 12:26 am (UTC)
thanks muchly
marmalade_jack
May. 25th, 2004 11:39 am (UTC)
I remember an essay by Isaac Asimov in which he compared his writing style to clear plate glass, and the style that wasn’t like his to stained glass. His tone was slightly defensive, saying it took just as much skill to write in a style that was all nearly invisible, but I think I’d much rather have the color and texture of stained glass books. It’s nice to be reminded of what the language can do.
benpeek
May. 25th, 2004 04:54 pm (UTC)
there is, actually, nothing wrong with a minimalistic writing style. raymond carver used it brilliantly, for example, and hemingway certainly did memorable stuff with it... but even they with that style, they were aware of the other things they could convey, and measured their words for that.

so in a way, asimov is right. of course, asimov's stuff never struck me as a wariter concerned with the literature of his work, unlike carver or hemingway.
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