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JV
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 09:38 am:   

I'm taking a short break from the novel before plunging in again. In that break, I read a wonderful book, out in the US in February.

One Day The Ice WIll Reveal All Its Dead by Clare Dudman.

Stunning book. Part adventure saga, partially about the poetry of science. Part tragedy. Part triumph. It's a first-person present-tense novel about the life of Alfred Wegener, the German meteorologist who came up with the continental drift theory. I've rarely read such utterly stunning and confident prose. It's really a masterpiece.

Anyone else read anything new of interest?

JeffV
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des
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 10:37 am:   

A collection by AS Byatt emtitled 'Little Black Book of Stories'. All brilliant, of course, but the story of a woman's slow metamorphosis into stone (The Stone Woman) is, I feel, a masterpiece.
des
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JakeM
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 10:41 am:   

Hi all,

I've been lurking around for a while and thought I'd jump in here.

While not in the same category as Jeff's recommendation, I think "The Zombie Survival Guide" by Max Brooks (Mel's son) would appeal to a lot of people here. As a whole, it's a brilliant work of satire, but page by page it's a rather clever piece of fiction.

Jake
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 11:21 am:   

I;m reading TIME IS RUNNING OUT by Imam Siddiq Hassan Khab, a primer concerning the Islamic version of the apocalypse...and rereading VS Naipaul's IN A FREE STATE, three novellas.

I tend to dislike novels about historical characters, but the Dudman does sound worth checking out.
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JV
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 11:24 am:   

Lucius:

I hate novels about historical characters. Which is why the Dudman was such a pleasant surprise. Something about the first person present tense in this case takes the stilted quality out of the narrative. And it's a very fluid book--not a lot of exposition trying to set the historical period.

The Khab sounds very interesting. I'm determined to read mostly outside of genre this year, just because I've been reading nothing but genre lately.

JeffV
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 12:11 pm:   

Hate novels about historical characters? . . . I always have found history to be one of the richest places to look for stuff to write about. . . . And there are also an awful lot of good historical fiction books. . . . Of course, I like Sir Walter Scott--so maybe I am just way out of tune with the times!
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jonathan briggs
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 12:14 pm:   

Pete Dexter's "Deadwood" is the best thing I've read in a while, in or out of genre. Hilariously crude historical (oops, sorry) Western. It's a book for the whole family (the whole screwy Briggs clan loved it anyway). Just don't read it while you're eating. I tried that and got to laughing so hard, I choked.

It made K.J. Bishop's best-of list over at Fantastic Metropolis, too. Good choice.
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 12:24 pm:   

Brandon, I usually find authors' renditions of actual historical characters thoroughly unconvincing and off-putting in the sense that I feel the author is taking a cheap ride--kind of like saying that one character looks like this or that movie star. Historical fiction need not be about actual characters, and that's the kind of historical fiction I like.

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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 12:40 pm:   

Yes, I understand what you mean. In a sense that is true for me too. . . . Probably that is why my favourite historical fiction is about people who not that much is known about--that way it gives the author a lot of room to mess around. There is a French author named Marcel Schwob who wrote a book of short stories like that--dealing with famous people whose lives are for the most part unrecorded.
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des
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 01:07 pm:   

"...dealing with famous people whose lives are for the most part unrecorded."

Fascinating! Examples?

I also enjoy fiction that features actual historical characters in fictitious situations (alternate worlds, for example).
des

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JV
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 01:22 pm:   

Lucius:
That's how I feel about most historical fiction featuring, say, Winston Churchill et al.

Jeff
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 01:52 pm:   

Yeah, that's whay I could never hook onto Doctorow and so on. Alternate words stuff, the same. I just go, ho hum. Like gee, what would happen if Alexander the Great had invented the double stuffed Oreo back in BC....

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JV
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 02:02 pm:   

LOL!!!!
JeffV
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des
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 02:39 pm:   

Anyone read Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad?
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 02:44 pm:   

Long ago, during a misspent youth, I did.... :-)
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Michael Cisco
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 08:15 pm:   

I just blundered across "The Lost Domain" by Alain-Fournier. A wonderful little novel, although not a new one.
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Anne S
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 09:50 pm:   

Dare I say that I am fond of historical fiction.

One of my all time favorite books is "Restoration" by Rose Tremain. It is set during the Charles II period of English History and uses the king as a character. But the book focuses mainly on the hero/anti-hero Robert Merivel, an extraordinarily well evoked rounded person. The restoration of the title has more than one meaning. There was a rather awful movie made of the book some time ago which hardly does the the book justice.

Tremain also wrote a rather fine novel set in the court of King Christian IV of Denmark.

Apropos "The Lost Domain" or "Le Grand Meaulnes" - it has long been a favorite of mine as well.
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des
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 10:50 pm:   

'Le Grand Meaulnes' is one of those life-changing masterpieces which I was lucky enough to read when young. des
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Brendan
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 12:10 am:   

Examples from Schwob’s Imaginary Lives:

Petronius, novelist
Burke and Hare, murderers
Cecco Angiolieri, malevolent poet
Major Stede Bonnet, pirate by vagary
Sufrah, geomancer
Crates, cynic
Clodia, shameless matron
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Anne S
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 12:52 am:   

Des,

I read "Le Grand Meaulnes" way, way back in the 60s myself. I actually found it by reading Simone de Beauvoir's autobigraphy where she mentions it as an influential book in her life.

I still have my rather ragged Penguin edition of the book, though I haven't read it for many years.

Perhaps this year.

Anne
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Rhys
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 02:24 am:   

One utterly marvellous historical novel is John Barth's THE SOT-WEED FACTOR.

I'm sure it partly inspired (in terms of serving as an example of what is possible) Thomas Pynchon's MASON & DIXON, which is another marvellous historical novel.

But both books are extremely long and I don't seem quite so able these days to digest long novels.

As for the books I've started 2004 with -- I've finally got around to reading Yevgeny Zamyatin's WE. Brilliant! Quite absurdly funny and really very dry. I love the sub-chapter headings ('The Universe Exists' is one of my favourites). Much better (and dafter) than Huxley and Orwell's imitations...
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Anne S
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 02:40 am:   

The Sot Weed Factor - absolutely marvellous!

Also we mustn't forget that all the Whittemore books are historical novels as well.

I think I have a copy of WE somewhere (in an old Penguin edition) - haven't read it for years.

Thinking about all these old Penguin editions I own, they certainly don't produce Penguin books of the same literary calibre any more.
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JV
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 05:47 am:   

I suppose historical as opposed to centered on a particular historical figure is different for me. And perhaps I simply haven't encountered the right novels. I like some historical novels if they're not jam-packed with the evidence of research. Not so much the historical figure novel.

JeffV
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 06:06 am:   

Ditto.

I certainly liked the Grand Domain better than the novel to which it;s often compared, Catcher in the Rye...Not sure I'd consider it a life-changing classic. Not sure I'd consider it on a par with other novels of adolesccence like Huck Finn. The book that changed my life was Richard Haliburton's The Occident and the Orient, which said to me, Lucius, you don't have to hang around Daytona Beach and get your ass kicked by your insane father -- you can go to exotic foreign lands and get your ass kicked by people you don't know. Much more appealing.

So what was this about the Iron Dream. From what I recall, it was hilarious. Sort of a book-length joke. Spinrad on quality pharmaceuticals.
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Minsoo Kang
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 06:19 am:   

Speaking of historical novels, have any of you read Barry Unsworth's 'The Rage of Vultures'? Absolutely stunning, powerful work about an English diplomat in Istanbul at the time of the Young Turks's Revolution. Since history is my academic field I tend to be overly critical when it comes to accuracy etc., but I was completely drawn into this one which is engaging plot and a wonderful portrait of the multiethnic society of the Ottoman Empire in its last years.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 06:22 am:   

Minsoo, Unsworth's terrific. Haven't read Rage of Vultures, but have it on my desk....
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Brendan
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 07:12 am:   

I dont know, I like stuff packed with research also. I suppose it really depends on the writer's tryle though. Very few people can authentically pull it off. A few who can:

Baron Corvo
Ramon Valle-Inclan
Lord Lytton (with certain reservations)
Victor Hugo
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des
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 07:30 am:   

Sot weed Factor! - well that's *beyond* life-changing! Seminal to my whole fictitious soul.

Brendan, I thought you said famous people whose lives went unrecorded. I took that literally.
Why are they called imaginary lives. Surely these people existed. Ah, I think I see - they were real people but their lives are imaginary ...?

Iron Dream was a Swords&Sorcery novel by Adolf Hitler.

Des

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Brendan
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 08:26 am:   

Des--

Well, they were people who really existed, but little is known about their lives, so it gives Schwob a lot of room to tell a story. That is the kind of historical fiction I like--that does not diverge from history, but uses imagination.

The truth is though, that most historical figures are like this. As long as you are not writing about Napoleon or something, there is probably a good deal of space to move around in.
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Iain Rowan
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 08:50 am:   

The book I'm currently boring people with recommendations for is, happily enough, in part a historical novel.

Thursbitch is the most recent novel by Alan Garner, best known here as a children's fantasist (though his books are well worth any adult reading - Red Shift, The Owl Service, The Stone Book Quartet - they were some of the most important books of my childhood but I enjoy them just as much now).

Thursbitch is a step on from them though, a really powerful and moving fantasy which completely nails an English mythology in a way which seems as rooted, as real as the landscape that Garner is so obsessive about.

Wonderful stuff, and I can't recommend it enough.
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GabrielM
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 09:12 am:   

>>Well, they were people who really existed, but little is known about their lives, so it gives Schwob a lot of room to tell a story.


There's other examples of that genre, I think. UNIVERSAL HISTORY OF INFAMY comes to mind.
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Eric S
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 11:05 am:   

Relevant to the ongoing thread but from a different angle:

The best book that I recently read is
Wanderings--Chaim Potok's History of the Jews.

Here you have a fiction writer writing a book of non-fiction and the prose just sings.

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Lucius
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 11:16 am:   

Actually, Des, the Iron Dream is a book by Norman Spinrad about Hitler in a world in which Hitler did not rise to power but emigrated to the States and became a popular novelist -- most of the text of the Iron Dream purports to be a posthumous novel by Hitler entitled Lord of the Swaztika.

The point being, it's not REALLY a novel by Hitler.
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des
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 11:20 am:   

I stand corrected, Lucius. I read it ages ago. It was completely mad, yet enjoyable.
Disregarding the Norman Spinrad aspect, the whole concept of a writer creating a novel by someone (in)famous in history appeals to the nemonymous bits of me. des
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 11:26 am:   

Yeah, that's a totally cool idea. I was attempting something similar, that being, to write a novel purporting to be a novel by an obscure Norweigian fantasy writer, whose personal history (fabricated by me) involved him with the Third Reich in a kind of Borgesian way and etc. etc.; but I found a great deal of resistance to my selling it under the name of the made-up writer...it difficult to be any kind of nonymous....
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des
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 12:10 pm:   

Well, you should submit to Nemonymous, then, Lucius. ;-)
One story in issue 2 received great critical acclaim and is still anonymous.
des
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Robert Devereux
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 12:16 pm:   

I've been fascinated with the idea of taking this approach with music. Steven Wilson did it once - he made up a band, Porcupine Tree, who's "lost classic" was rediscovered and re-issued in the early 90's. It was popular enough in prog rock circles that he turned it into a real band.

I like the idea of coming up with a fictional band and their history, and then writing music for it. Or maybe unearth manuscripts from some imaginary classical composer. Or maybe take it even further - a collection of music from a fictional Central Asian republic.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 12:56 pm:   

Des, well, maybe I will submit a section sometime later this year. That'd be cool with me....
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Rich Patterson
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 06:52 pm:   

>>Well, they were people who really existed, but little is known about their lives, so it gives Schwob a lot of room to tell a story.

A few more examples of that genre... COMING THROUGH SLAUGHTER by Michael Ondaatje, which follows the life of turn-of-the-century New Orleans jazz trumpeter Buddy Bolden from genius to madness, is a stunning novel. Beautifully written. It was a life-changer for me back in the early eighties. Also, one of Ondaatje’s first books, THE COLLECTED WORKS OF BILLY THE KID, was written from the perspective of you-know-who.
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Jamie
Posted on Saturday, January 24, 2004 - 08:04 am:   

I quite enjoyed Gore Vidal's The Smithsonian Institute, on the subject of historical-fiction-that-isn't-quite.
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ben peek
Posted on Saturday, January 24, 2004 - 04:24 pm:   

i thought COMING THROUGH SLAUGHTER was fantastic. it's one of my favourites.
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Colin Brush
Posted on Monday, January 26, 2004 - 03:22 am:   

Just started The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl - which is almost a fictional version of Louis Menard's brilliant The Metaphysical Club concerning a group of intellectuals in post-Civil War Boston. Yes, the author is showing off his erudtion and research, but he's (so far) writing an intriguing crime story with very vivid characters (though he shifts point of view rather too often for my tastes, as if he grows restless with any one character after a page or two).

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Stuff
Posted on Thursday, March 25, 2004 - 05:30 am:   

sorry to drag out the corpse of 2 months back, but what with all the above discussion on historical novels - has anyone read the Matthew Rossi entries at Fantastic Metropolis? I'm not at all familiar with the genre of historical writing or Alternate History, but I love what he does in those two shorts.

Richard
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Peggy
Posted on Thursday, March 25, 2004 - 05:39 am:   

Stuff, if you haven't yet checked out Rossi's collection Things That Never Were, you'll definitely want to give it a look-see.
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Jamie
Posted on Thursday, March 25, 2004 - 06:39 am:   

Whoa, whoa... is this Matt "Badger" Rossi?

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