Tuesday, August 24, 2004

FLIGHTS: Days 2 - 4

"Straight edges could take your soul."

"In this city, straight edges brought the spells of cruelty, but only if they appeared in inanimate objects or drawings."

"His hosts...had warned him. Avoid the city. If he was imprudent enough to enter, he must create no straight edges."

"The inhabitants of a long-vanished civilization had raised the original city. Its purpose: to cage Edgers [demons]."

"As long as the human created no straight lines, they remained free, but if they ever made a mistake--as had Denric tonight--they became prey to the Edgers."

Catherine Asaro's "The Edges of Never-Haven" is the third story in the Al Sarrantonio-edited anthology Flights. I didn't like it very much and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how many stories are written about nothing at all: about characters we don't care about, doing things we don't care about, motivated by things we don't care about. Stories whose themes are either non-existent or so obvious as to make them be about nothing. Even entertainment cannot flourish within indifference.

In the case of "The Edges of Never-Haven," I think the problem is the extremely artificial curves-versus-edges nature of the milieu, which seems to exist only because the writer made it up and decided to write it down on paper. There's no specific detail in the story to make me believe in the setting. There's nothing in the main character of Denric, who turns out to be a "Ruby Prince," to spur the reader forward, either. In place of the heroic prince, we get instead a kind of cipher who is neither anti-hero nor fully three-dimensional person:

"He had never been strong enough to wield a sword well or interested enough to learn strategies that would compensate for his lack of muscle. Nor was his perpetually tousled mop of hair and his face, which too many people called 'angelic,' likely to inspire dread in his enemies. He was only a little less than average height, and in reasonably good shape, but compared with his brawny, towering brothers and their natural skill at weapons, he had always felt lacking."

The other problem is that very few of the sentences in this story are performing double or triple duties. For example, in the above paragraph, the "too many people called 'angelic'" line would have been the perfect opportunity to put a face or name to his friends, his family--introduce some connection between him and another human being. The entire paragraph, serving as it does as a generic physical description, could have taken on another dimension entirely. But the character remains as cardboard as the setting.

There's really nothing wrong with the story, despite some very lame dialogue, but there's nothing right with it, either. It's just...inert.

I then tried to read the fourth story in the anthology, "Pat Moore" by Tim Powers. It features angels or ghosts and a lot of manifestations of same in the car of Pat Moore, along with a lot of explanation in dialogue from said angel-ghosts about what is going on. After the second session in Moore's car, I decided to abandon the story. It's either a exposition-in-dialogue-heavy story that doesn't work or it's just not to my taste. Either way, it was time to cut my losses and move on to the Joyce Carol Oates story, which thus far is much more interesting.

A couple of thoughts struck me after having read the first four stories in this anthology. The first is that the anthology thus far seems to exist in a universe parallel to the one I exist in. Which is to say, I haven't thus far, except in a couple of places in the Powers' story, found much to identify with--anything that seemed personal to the writer: a detail, a little glimmer of a truth, universal or otherwise. I don't know if this has to do with what I'm bringing to the table or what the stories are bringing, but...And the second thought that occurred to me is that Sarrantonio may be more of a caretaker than an editor.



At 7:29 PM, Blogger erasmus said...

Thanks for steering me away from Flights. I have to admit that I've been tempted to get it after seeing it on the shelves at Barnes & Noble (my drug of choice, after Half-Price Books), but now I'll avoid it.

On a slightly related note I read Catherine Asaro's book The Charmed Sphere, and it had many of the same qualities that you describe here, only I would add that it is extremely condescending.

- Jeremy

At 6:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, it's early days yet. I'm only four stories in. There are stories by authors I very much admire coming up--and I usually like Robert Silverberg, and sometimes like Tim Powers, so...It could still turn out to be a fantastic, if uneven, anthology. We'll see.

I felt like Asaro might have been out of her element, since I understand she mostly writes SF?


At 8:08 AM, Blogger erasmus said...

Yes, I think that Catherine Asaro mostly writes science-fiction. Apparently Primary Inversion is very good, but after having read The Charmed Sphere I doubt that I'll get around to it for a good long time. I read so slowly that I have a hard enough time getting around to books that I know are going to be good.

- Jeremy

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