Books: Past, Present, and Near-Future

Read (past tense):

So, you love Trainspotting as a motion picture, I’ll wager that you’ll find the book worth a read as well. In some ways the film improved on the book; the cast is cut down to a more manageable level by combining the stories of multiple characters into the primary four (or five, if you count Diane and I most definitely do).

A word of warning, though: The book is significantly rougher than the film and that is a bar of significant height. Begbie is more violent, Sick Boy is skeevier, Renton is even more emo, and Spud? Well, Spud’s a mate. Sadly, Diane has but a single chapter, but it’s the one you’d expect.

The vast majority of the book is famously written in Scots’ dialect, something that could easily have come across as a distracting stunt. I didn’t find it in the least bit difficult to follow. There are some slang terms I had to look up, but there’s a glossary to help out and I imagine you’ll use it far less than you’d expect.

It’s an angry book, full of life, but it’s the life people with no futures choose to live, so it’s horrifying as well. Heroin, of course, figures heavily but you’d be missing the point if you said the book was about heroin or even junkies. It’s about how people react to a hopeless situation. I loved it, but I loved the movie and I imagine I’ll love the musical whenever Irvine Welsh decides to go for his EGOT.

Re-Reading:

I'm about 3/4 of the way through my second go round with Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing. It's a beautiful book, as much a fable as it is a novel, and featuring a good deal more Spanish dialogue than I remembered. The pacing is...let's call it stately. Elegiac? It's slow, ok? But that's the right pace for the story.

McCarthy's dialogue reads like a guy who read Hemingway and thought "way too verbose", but his descriptions of the southwestern badlands are haunting and dense. He's one of the few "western" writers who can tell a story that (and I hate myself for saying this) transcends the genre.

One interesting thing McCarthy has in common with Neil Gaiman is that some of the best parts of the book are the stories within stories within stories. It's a difficult device to pull off without taking the reader out of the story, but when it comes off, it's brilliant. 

This novel, like many of his, is a little cold, a little distant, and a lot of harsh, but it's a hell of a book. 

Going to read next:

I finally, finally found a science fiction short story collection I've been seeking for a decade or so now. I read it back in the mid-80s and there were a couple of stories in it which left an unusually vivid imprint in my memory. The problem? I couldn't remember the name of the collection, the names of the stories, or the author.

Even with the aid of the internet, I didn't have much luck. I thought it might be a collection by Frederik Pohl, so I've been combing through his collections at Half Price Books without seeing anything that seemed familiar. Grrrr. 

A couple of weeks ago I finally found a combination of search terms to find one of the stories: "The Martyr". Aha! That, in turn, lead me to the author, Poul Anderson (I was close, dammit!), and to the title of the collection: The Gods Laughed. When I saw the cover, I knew I'd found it. Huzzah.

No Half Price in town had a copy, and it seems to be out of print, but no worries. The internet came to the rescue once more. I now have a copy and look forward to re-reading it and probably discovering that it wasn't nearly as good as I remembered. I'm willing to take that risk. 

In case you're wondering the other story from this collection that stuck with me was called "Soldier From the Stars". Funny thing: These two, along with a couple of William Gibson stories from the Mirrorshades collection, are the most haunting sci-fi short stories I've read and three of the four have a common premise: Humanity ain't at the top of the galactic food chain. I should probably ask my therapist if that means anything, huh?

-RK