segunda-feira, outubro 09, 2017

The Glamorisation of Suffering: "City of Stairs" by Robert Jackson Bennett




When is it necessary to kill a character to get a point across? I’m thinking about Vo here. By the time we get to the point when things get moving, I’ve already seen how damaging his religious upbringing had been to him. I've already seen how it had wreaked him and how this agony had shaped him into the character’s he'd become. I got that; bumping him off does nothing to further highlight the deed, nor to bring forth the message I got from killing him off. His death is just lazy writing. In fact, his death serves no narrative purpose and hence, it saps the very directive it was supposedly delivering. People don't just suffer in a void. Not all pain leads to tragic and abject death. Such “glamorisation” of suffering is a method to avoid endorsing and responding to that suffering. When everyone dies, it's sad, but we aren't called upon to answer for how we or our society has contributed to their suffering. We ache and move on. Nothing we do can change the fact that they are dead, and we have no impetus to change our ways because that impetus has ceased breathing. But when there's a living person staring you in the face, you are forced to acknowledge and come to terms with the reality of that person and how their suffering takes place in your world. This state-of-affairs is not so much with the Urban SF writers themselves as it is the culture of apparent "laziness" that they seem to have inspired (e.g., Grimdark comes to mind with so many bad imitators out there).  All good writers tent to spawn lazy imitators. They also can have beneficial influence on serious, hardworking younger (or unborn) writers. Bad writers tend to only spawn other bad writers. It was ever thus. Perhaps that's what young writers are trying to achieve. They want to write in a way that matters. They confuse style with content and relevance. It takes years and years and years to be able to put a decent sentence down, but often they just look at you like you're a complete c**t, mostly those people who talk about writing! One thing I would add, is that a writer needs to be able to write in the third as well as first person. It is very easy for writers to hide incompetence in the first. Not so much in the third. In the third everything comes to light.

What this novel reminds me of is that moment in 1976/77 when established rock musicians realised that punk was here to stay - what, no more 15-minute guitar solos based on Bach fugues? Where is their sense of tradition and craft? Where indeed? Picasso, Braque, etc. did the same in the visual arts with cubism shooting mimetic art out of the water - yes, nowadays people draw and paint even though they have no years of experience drawing from plaster copies and the life model. Admittedly a knowledge of what has gone before SF-wise can be advantageous, but we don't have to construct beautifully crafted sentences to write clearly of our experiences and lives, or engage with a reader. Personally I prefer passion, commitment, and humour to craft and tradition, but I am merely a consumer and not a clever author.

There's also that tale about Picasso (it could have been van Gogh - but it still makes my point) that once paid for a meal with a drawing. After said meal he took the landlord aside and drew for him a bird in about four or five swift strokes. The landlord was aghast: "call that a painting! It's just mere brush strokes!" Picasso took the landlord back to his atelier and showed him hundreds upon hundreds of drawings of the same bird, the same brush strokes, the same swift, perfect execution. What may look like it breaks the rules with passion and flair and humour was created after painstakingly learning its craft.

You can learn your craft and still be new and fresh. The space that SF literature occupied has changed, there are other games in town (movies, TV Shows, etc.). Should a SF writer ignore the past? My position is simply that our language is ours to do whatever we want with, but it does matter what anyone has done with it beforehand. I can't imagine a rejection letter from a publisher : “Dear Mr. Antão, you obviously haven't read Shakespeare...” And me thinking, oh shit, I knew there was something I missed!

It's not elitism; it's just an intrinsic belief that writing is a craft that must be learnt. I find very irksome the countless writers I read who eschew the building blocks of language and still think they can play with form and structure.

And though I'm somewhat illiterate, I'd like to presume that Bennett is as good a SF writer as we humans have produced so far.





SF = Speculative Fiction.

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