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Old Oct 25 2011, 03:31 AM   #2

Kath's Avatar
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Oop North

Fan of: Moreta
Default Re: The Writer's Toolbox

So... when I first started reading Anne's books, you know what attracted me to them most? The dragons. I'd spent the best part of the last few years dreaming up stories starring Mary Sue the Magical Flying Unicorn Girl (and I even return to them in my head every once in a while, though they've come a long way since then), and suddenly what do I see? Telepathic magic flying horses *cough* I mean dragons, who would love and respect you and see right into your soul. Perfect fodder for the pre-teen girl outsider!

Dragons are just one aspect of Anne's worldbuilding, but I really think that worldbuilding is where she excels. While the dragons are the initial compelling premise, the depth of the world has held me since. Interestingly, there are other authors with equally compelling worlds for me. Tolkien is famous for his attention to detail and the years spent lovingly crafting each individual language, and the back story of practically every single character. Mieville is just fresh and weird, and with a few simple words (what the heck is a 'cacotopic stain' anyway?) it's easy to be drawn in to the richness of his worlds and his prose. Erikson's world began as a tabletop campaign, but the richness and layers of the magic system, character power-ups (if I can use that term for the various gods and ascendants) and different races are so vast that you can't fail to respect his creation, nor see his expertise behind it.

And yet, while it's Anne's worldbuilding that I love most, it's the flaws in it that I find most exciting. To create something so rich and fun and so full of holes - and yet it still all hangs together perfectly believably - how did she manage it? The woman's a genius in her own right.

As I've grown up, plot has become less important to me than character. I love Moreta because we know the plot already, and it's the character that drives the action. Even though we rationally know she's doomed, much like Jack on the Titanic, I can't help as a reader wanting and hoping that she'll sidestep her fate, right until she's gone.

Dragonsdawn, too, is one of my favourites. I guess it has elements of the cosy catastrophe about it. Modern life is doomed, but don't worry, because all the nice people will get telepathic flying ponies to keep them safe and love them to bits! Sean's character is really the only one that grows and changes appreciably though, but he's strong enough to hang a plot off. Sallah was always my favourite though - a strong competent woman who thwarts the wicked temptress. And then the man of her dreams finally realises how much he loves her, but unfortunately she's now too dead to enjoy a proper decent sex life with him. The usual essay-rant is brewing in my head again now - female characters in McCaffrey, and their sex lives. As much as I and others decry the almost romance-novel stereotypes, maybe that's part of the appeal. Anne writes romance-novel women hiding snugly in the guise of SF... and we can get our romance-novel bodice-ripper kicks at the same time as shaking our heads at it. I don't like what she does with her female characters... but I certainly don't skip past the Brekke/F'nor scenes, do I? It's a guilty pleasure, like too much chocolate. Yet again, I can't avoid the conclusion that Anne's a genius. Even when I think her characterisation is downright wrong to my mind, I still love reading those characters.

What books don't I go back to? Restoree, really. And mostly because it loses the cachet of its SF setting by a single word: Telstar. She didn't have to name it, but by doing so, she dated the novel irreperably for me. On the flip side, look at the short stories Daughter and Dull Drums. The casual sexism of the parents throws me out of Daughter now, but Dull Drums is almost prophetic in what the main character sees in the personal data-records, and the meaningfulness of them. That's a story that has become more relevant with time, not less.

Todd - now, he brings me back to the worldbuilding and plotting again. I think he's much stronger at plot than he is at character, but there are details in the worldbuilding that don't gel for me. (Whers, for one.) But then, he's got Anne's input on the details, so it's more likely a matter of presentation. Bizarre that a reader's reality can feel stronger to that reader than another author... but that's the way it goes. We allo read and see books differently, Todd no less than anyone else, and that's the danger of writing in another author's world. The old and new authors may agree on what's written, but the subtleties in the presentation may easily throw off a sizable fraction of the readers, who didn't read the books the same way. A book is a book is a book. It's fixed and constant and doesn't change. But every reader will experience it differently. I'm glad he chose to write in a different Pass. Knowing that Kindan began as Piemur, I think that the use of a whole new character saved him a heck of a lot of trouble with readers and writers seeing a particular established character in very different ways. I still say that there's a lot of Mary Sue in his characters, but at least they're clearly his. Perhaps that's why his Wind Blossom and other 1st Pass characters don't work as well for me.
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