Thoughts on Mr. Mercedes

A while back I decided to cancel my Audible.com subscription, because my income was decreasing. I had somewhere around eight credits saved up that I had to use before I could cancel, so I picked up a bunch of random audiobooks. One of them was Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King.

I pretty much like anything that Stephen King writes, so it’s no surprise that I liked it. But it was the first time I had ever listened to Stephen King read as an audiobook. (Actually that’s not true, but it was the first time I’d listened to a full-length King novel as an audiobook.)

Mr. Mercedes was very well-read by Will Patton. I greatly prefer it when actors read books instead of when “voiceover artists” read books. They put a lot more feeling behind the words, rather than simply enunciating them clearly.

This book illustrates exactly what I was trying to say in a previous post. Mr. Mercedes had no supernatural elements whatsoever. There’s simply no way it should be classified as “horror,” which is true for quite a lot of Stephen King books. But what is it? Popular fiction? Suspense? Thriller? It certainly wasn’t genre fiction. I suppose I would have to guess “suspense” since it was very … well, suspenseful.

I probably shouldn’t give away anything but it had one of the happiest endings I can ever remember seeing in a Stephen King book.

The Curse of Chalion, Part 2

This book really grew on me. I almost stopped reading it at about 20%, but pressed onward, and I’m glad I did, because I feel like I learned something important about writing from this book. When I got to about 35% I was hooked, and when I got to about 40% I was riveted. I won’t spoil it but if you’ve read the book you probably know the events that caused the riveting. The book has a lot of religious themes after the 40% mark which are really interesting.

I said I learned something important about writing, and that was: People that give advice on how to write aren’t always right. Or perhaps I should say: Successful authors don’t always follow the rules. I knew that before, but this book really exemplified it. Fully the first 1/3 of the book is a prologue or preamble or backstory. The "inciting incident" that propelled the main character past the point of no return didn’t occur until precisely the 37% mark. That is *completely* contrary to the "in-late, out-early" formula drilled into every new writer’s head. By conventional new-writer wisdom, the "inciting incident" should occur at approximately the 0% mark, or possibly even a negative percentage mark and told in flashback, because we are told that you only have a sentence or a paragraph or maybe — if you’re very lucky — a page or two to hook new readers. Bujold threw that advice completely out the window. And the book was published in 2001, so it’s not like it’s an old book from the 60s when people had more attention spans.

(Granted, she had several award-winning and -nominated novels under her belt prior to writing this one, so she already had a fan base that would read no matter what. New writers don’t have that luxery.)

The book felt extremely epic, yet it was written with only one POV, defying the notion that you have to write a dozen different POV characters to write epic fantasy.

Almost no time was spent on traveling, despite the fact that the main character changed settings several times. To me, this was amazing, because I find myself mired in "road trip" chapters all too often. It’s nice to see that you can just skip over a long journey if you need to.

Another thing I found amazing was that *there was no action in this book.* I mean, there were no sword fights, no chases, no dungeons, no wars, no rope-swinging, no fist-fights, no hanging from ledges by a fingernail, no nothing. Well, okay, there was a little bit of sword-fighting toward the end, but it was almost an after-thought. It was 99% medieval court politics and human relationships and religious philosophy, and yet somehow those topics which sound insufferably boring on the surface were made tense and exciting. And it was elegantly written to boot, with a wide variety of interesting grammar and vocabulary.

I feel like describing Curse as a "classy" book, as opposed to something like a Game of Thrones which I might be tempted to call "crass" by comparison. Those aren’t very good words, but hopefully you know what I mean.

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

I started reading The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold … and this time, I actually *mean* reading, not listening to the audiobook. (There are people who insist that listening to an audiobook is the same as reading, but IMO they are very different media consumption experiences.) I picked it up because I saw that it was the next book in The Sword and Laser book club, so on impulse I got it. Not because I wanted to participate in The Sword and Laser, but because I’d wanted to read a Bujold book anyway because her name appears somewhat frequently on the Hugo award winner list.

Well, I’m now about 20% into this book, and I’m thinking about stopping. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with the book. It’s well-written and charming in its way, but I’m running into the same problem I have with a lot of books. I don’t know what the main character’s goal is. He doesn’t seem to have a mission. I really have a hard time getting into stories when the characters don’t have some kind of quest or conflict driving them.

Also, I believe this is the first book in a series, and I don’t really want to get into a long series that is just “okay.”

Well, well. I was looking up how many books were in the series and found it’s not really a series at all. It’s sequel is Paladin of Souls, which is a Hugo-award-winning book that I *do* want to read. So perhaps I will discard all of my biases and press onward. It’s a relatively fast read for a fantasy book anyway.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl

Someone at work recommended Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, so I got it from Audible with one of my credits. This same person also recommended Hunger Games, so my expectations were not very high. But as it turns out, Gone Girl is a pretty good psychological thriller/mystery.

Overall the book makes some pretty strong feminist statements, as well as having some brutal social commentary about the state of the media and judicial system. It had a pretty big twist about halfway through, which I did not see coming at all, so congratulations to the author for completely fooling me. I can’t elaborate without spoiling it, so if you haven’t read it, you might want to skip the rest of this.

The reader is subtley and not-so-subtley led to believe that one character is an unreliable narrator, but it turns out that the other character is really the unreliable one. It was a great example of surprising-but-inevitable. Once it’s revealed, you think, “Oh, of *course* it’s like that! I should have seen it.”

The book is presented as two different first-person points of view, which is somewhat unusual. There were no issues figuring which one was which, because each chapter was labeled with the speaker. I believe most of it was in present tense, though I think there was some past tense as well. I’d have to go back and check on that. Present tense seems to be really in vogue these days.

One thing I did not like was that at one point a character broke the fourth wall and more-or-less directly addressed the reader. I found it unnecessary. It only happened for one chapter, which made it especially odd.

Ender’s Game

I just finished the audiobook for Ender’s Game, which I have never read before. I’ve missed quite a few science fiction classics over the years, so I’m trying to make up for it with my Audible credits. The audiobook, by the way, was very well read.

I don’t know what I would have thought if I’d read this book when I was younger, but now, I found it to be a tragically depressing story. Basically it’s about the military using a child to commit genocide on an alien race.

I think the reason this book has been so well-received over the years is that it’s not a typical science-fiction book. Most SF books tend to be about the science, and the characters and story are pretty secondary. For example, I listened to The Mote in God’s Eye about a year ago – a brilliant, classic SF book – but I couldn’t tell you the name of any of the the characters or anything about their personalities or any of the problems they faced. But I could tell you a fair amount about the Moties and their culture and their evolution, because that was the main focus of the book. The story was just a vehicle to write about an interesting alien species.

But in Ender’s Game, the science takes a back seat. The science is almost non-existent, actually. We are never told exactly *how* Ender interacts with his games, for example. It could be a keyboard, a touch screen, telepathy, switches and levers, or anything in between. It doesn’t really matter. The book is all about Ender the boy and his interactions with other boys and girls. If it had been *just* Ender and his struggles with not wanting to kill people yet being trained to kill people, that would have been pretty dull, because that story has been done to death. But with the addition of his mean older brother and his compassionate older sister, it turned into a kind of touching family story.

As I was reading, I noticed there was very little set description in it. Most of it took place in the proverbial white fog, which is somewhat unusual I think for science fiction. I don’t remember any descriptions of the Battle School, or the Command School. I had no real sense of what any of the "games" looked like. Maybe that is another reason the book made such an impact. It gives me hope because I don’t feel like I’m very good at describing settings.