Friday, August 25, 2006

Since I first heard about Christopher Paolini's novel Eragon, I figured I should probably read it out of homeschooler solidarity if nothing else. I picked it up a few times at bookstores, but wasn't interested enough to buy a copy, and its surprising popularity made it difficult to find at the library. Finally a couple weeks ago I saw a copy in one of the library displays and decided to check it out. Reading it made me wonder why I hadn't pursued publishing any of my fifteen-year-old scribblings! I wanted to rewrite almost every sentence, and as for the subject matter--there's little that can't be directly traced to well-known fantasy sources, mostly Tolkien.

For those who don't know the story, a teenaged boy named Eragon stumbles across a strange stone in the forest only he is comfortable entering. Unsurprisingly for the reader, the stone soon hatches a dragon that must be kept hidden from Eragon's family and fellow villagers, since dragons are believed to be extinct. But it's hard to conceal (and feed) an enormous flying creature, and all too soon Eragon is attacked by dark hooded riders and the bestial Urgals. Enter Gandalf/Professor Dumbledore/Obi-Wan Kenobi/wise yet mysterious advisor, who refuses to share his history yet expects Eragon to trust him fully. Back and forth across the Empire they flee, pursued by Nazgul and Orcs, trying to escape the Eye of Sauron--er, excuse me, all-powerful Emperor Galbatorix (who came to power by kicking his rival in the crotch during their final battle--clearly, supreme evil)--and figure out how Eragon can become a full-fledged Dragon Rider.

It's truly a story written by a fifteen-year-old boy. Nearly every conflict is solved with violence, even the most minor of surprises. It's not long before Eragon discovers his dragon-enhanced magic, which mostly means that he can kill things from a distance. So he does. People get mad at him, but it doesn't really help. Clearly the best enemy is a dead enemy, and anyway, it's more exciting that way. Thus most of the book is taken up with traveling and violence, until finally they reach the Mines of Moria and receive a brief respite while Paolini writes the next book in the trilogy.

To be fair, I've got Eldest on hold at the library, and am interested enough in Eragon's story to read the whole thing and find out what happens next. Hopefully the author's writing will improve with age, and perhaps he'll even branch out into original territory. I just can't help thinking what I thought about Charles de Lint's recently published first stories--there's a reason for practice, and first drafts, and rejections. After a while, you get better! Paolini seems to have the stamina for fantasy novels, and probably could produce something of merit in time, but it's kind of unfortunate that his first attempt is out there to embarrass him forever.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Though I originally started this blog to recommend books, I've found it's so much more fun to not recommend them. If I like a book, I feel that's all I have to say--read it, you'll like it too. But if I don't like a book, well then I have to tell you exactly why!

And Odious thinks I should share my outrage (since I shared it with him) concerning a fantasy novel whose reviewer had the gall to deem it "in some ways reminiscent of the Newford stories of Charles de Lint". Ha! I'll readily admit that Charles de Lint may be somewhat lacking in elegant prose and flowing style, but at least he has the knack of creating characters with whom I want to be friends, and neighborhoods in which I want to live, and stories that can be completely captivating. Not so David Herter.

I shudder to think what his first novel must have been like, as one assumes authors get better as they go along. Evening's Empire is his second attempt, and I really can't imagine what the editors at Tor Books were thinking when, first of all, they chose to publish this book, and second of all, they apparently fired their copy editors.

When I first read Ruth Rendell's excellent story, "From Piranha to Scurfy", I could immediately relate to the main character, whose self-employment consists of buying newly released hardbacks, reading them for errors, and writing polite letters to the authors to inform them of all mistakes. I sympathize now even more. My first inkling that David Herter might be overrated came when his protagonist mentioned that he was writing an opera to be produced in Santa Fe on March 17.

Only if he didn't actually want anyone to come to it!

As anyone who's ever been to the Santa Fe Opera knows, the opera house has no walls. The front of the building is completely open to the outside, which is marvelous and stunning and great fun (I still remember the coinciding thunderstorms during Janacek's "Katya Kabanova"). It also means that the opera season runs June-August, for the very good reason that nights during the rest of the year are far too cold for outdoor performances.

So it seems Mr Herter has not done his opera homework. And Tor Books needs to hire more copy editors. Indeed, they seem to have allowed this book to be published without editing of any kind. Useless conversations, sentence fragments, and clumsy style abound, but it wasn't until I read the description of a woman "gliding ebulliently" over the dance floor that I nearly threw the book across the room.

I'm currently composing the first draft of my letter to David Herter: "Dear Sir, Please stop writing." And my email to Tor Books: "To Whom It May Concern: I would like to offer my services as a copy editor." I'll keep you updated.