This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.
- The main character is straight.
- The piece is not of the Romance genre.
- The sexuality of the main character and its social impacts are not the main plot point.
This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.
With a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy works, there’s a heavy emphasis on world-building in lieu of character development. Call it an artefact of Tolkien’s impact on the genres, but in many cases it results in a feeling of extreme padding, getting in the way of story. It’s not a problem for everyone, but for me it can be a real deal breaker.
There are authors who get the balance right, however. Many are familiar with Douglas Adams and his devoting of whole chapters to fantastical encyclopaedia entries; but in his passing we now have Jasper Fforde and his wonderfully meta takes on getting us involved in his worlds.
Jasper Fforde (51) has a knack for taking a ridiculous idea, turning it into a straight-laced aspect of his fictional worlds, and just rolling with it. Did you know that talking bears have an underground porridge and honeycomb criminal ring? The Fourth Bear will tell you all you need to know. Did it cross your mind that British society in the distant and/or parallel future consider dancing a sordid and saucy act (not to mention a society where everyone is ranked by their ability to perceive colours)? It’s common knowledge in Shades of Grey.
His main series, the Thursday Next novels stand out as both his strongest writing and the biggest display of his love of literature, if not just his love of the Meta. The series, starting the The Eyre Affair are centred around the idea of writing and storytelling having otherworldly production and mechanics beyond the authors that wrote them. The process of reading is powered by Operating systems, characters have to physically act out a book as it’s read, and best of all, there’s a police force – Jurisfiction – to keep the Book World in safe running order. Move over Steampunk, this is a Book-punk setting through and through.
And of course, I can’t avoid mentioning the glorious torrent of puns. This may be something of a personal bias, but I adore the use of puns for names, and in that regard Fforde definitely doesn’t disappoint. Where else would I find a villain called Jack Schitt; or a side character called Floyd Pinken; or a pun set up that takes half a novel and is so awful the characters themselves complain about it?
As with any popular Science Fiction Work, it would be disingenuous to not mention the fans. My earlier comparison to Douglas Adams is apt, as there’s the die-hard subsection of the readership; to the point where a fan-made convention, the Fforde Ffiesta (har har) that happens every June. Held in Swindon (the setting for the Thursday Next novels), they’re as off-beat and pun-filled as you’d expect.
Unfortunately I haven’t read Fforde’s other independent series The Last Dragonslayer (due to them being Young Adult novels, though I shouldn’t let that stop me), but I would be very surprised if they lacked the fast-paced wit, quirky settings, and unabashed dorkiness that makes his other works shine.
When it comes to fiction, I far prefer the worlds of Sci-Fi to High Fantasy. While both genres could be argued to share many traits; swords, sorcery, and god forbid ”elves” do very little for me. To me, science is the real magic, and when that can be applied to our everyday mundane realities, so much the better. As such, I’m entirely in love with the idea of Cyberpunk.
The term was coined by William Gibson (though it’s popularity is partially down to movies like Tron); his initial work Neuromancer set a precedent – a setting where technology has moved beyond our present abilities, but human nature hasn’t progressed with it; looking at how society deals with a world where computers can improve our lives incredibly, but also bear dangerous concequences if and when misused. The only problem is that I’ve never liked Neuromancer much. The pacing is slow and stolid; the characters flat and unlikeable; the tone so overbearingly grim and ‘edgy’ I found it hard to read without rolling my eyes.
So I started reading Idoru with some trepidation; but it turned out I needn’t have worried. Gibson really must have found his footing as time went on, as Idoru deftly avoided the problems that marred Neuromancer for me; especially in how relateable I found it.
Idoru is build around the lives of two characters – Colin Laney, a man hired by the entertainment industry to dig through the data records of celebrities; and Chia McKenzie, a die-hard fan of the band Lo/Rez on a trip to Tokyo to have a meeting with the Japanese branch of the fandom. Both are chasing the rumor that Rez of Lo/Rez is planning to marry an A.I., an entirely simulated Pop Idol. Their stories are linked in the most tenuous of ways; but as the story progresses and the meaner side of the entertainment industry (and inexplicably, russian smugglers) get involved, the directions of the two begin to overlap.
The story goes to great lengths to keep the characters from either story arc from overlapping for as long as possible, which does wonders for the buildup in suspense concerning the final acts of the book. The chapters alternate between Chia and Colin, keeping the events feeling simultaneous. The Bartimaeus Trilogy, while a slightly childish example, also use this style of writing to great effect, and I loved it there too.
What I find most fascinating about Idoru is just how close the events and ideas it covers are to the technology we’ve achieved today. Sure, umbrellas that fold out of business cards, the Internet functioning entirely as Virtual Reality, and skyscrapers built from nanomachines are amusingly silly and presently impossible, but the idea of using someone’s Internet browsing and social network history to dig for information and gossip is very much real; even the average Facebook user does this to a degree! Robust online fandoms for actors, musicians and even fictional characters have existed for well over a decade, and the idea of digital popstars is way more likely than you think.
Idoru is a wonderful piece of imaginative and well-paced writing, but it’s an even better example of how Sci-Fi (and Fantasy in general) can be down-to-earth, relateable, and at the same time entirely out-there. The tone is moody and sometimes dark, but never too serious or brooding. I like my Sci-Fi how I like my coffee – gritty and dark, but with a hint of sweetness and mystery as to how it works.
…Wait, that would make a terrible coffee.