Hopes and Schemes – The Promise of Fiction

So, I have this problem.

I love reading, I really love reading. I’ve got huge stacks of books left to read and I’ve read huge stacks of book. The one problem is that bigger than either of these stack, is the stacks of books I’ve started but not finished.

I’m terrible at it.

I’ve started two books in the last week. One of them I only got two pages in before deciding I wanted to read something else first. (It’s the second in a series, I decided I wanted a break before continuing).

So instead I read something else. A book I bought on a whim last year because I thought the central idea sounded amazing.

Now here’s the problem.

I am enjoying this book thoroughly. But I’m pretty sure it’s not turning out to be the book I originally intended on reading.

It couldn’t be…that book doesn’t exist.


But let me explain further.

The book I just finished reading is the first book in the Riverworld Saga ‘To Your Scattered Bodies Go’. I enjoyed it, despite it lapsing into sexist and old fashioned views quite regularly, it’s definitely a little dated now, though part of that is because the main character is a Victorian Explorer.

Now, the basic premise of this series is incredible. Everybody in the history of Earth has been resurrected. Absolutely everybody. By some mysterious force. On a strange and vaguely Paradisical world. With no idea what’s going on.

Just think about that for a while….think of all the possible stories you can have in a world where everybody in history, from the cruellest dictator to the humblest peasant. From the most modern to the prehistoric. Every person ever.

There’s a lot of fun to be had in that setting.

The book picks a good path and makes for an entertaining yarn. But as the book continues, the options and possibility narrow. A narrative path is chosen and the adventures you imagined become, well…part of what you imagined but no longer part of the world that you’re reading.

I enjoyed the book, but I enjoyed my imagination more.

I guess this ain’t that bad, but it is frustrating.

Now, the book I’ve just started reading is called ‘Dying Inside‘ by Robert Silverberg. So far it’s actually been great, and quite unexpected it it’s route. But I still can’t help but think that the central idea is so fascinating, that I’m missing out on a million other stories that I want to read.

The central premise is that an aging telepath, as he grows old, is losing his power to read minds.

Really simple, but give space to have the whole raft of fears and worries about growing old and fading in a totally new way. It’s even got that Epilogue to The Tempest thing going on for it.

The emotional depth of the book, even just a few chapters in is incredible. It’s winding mid life crisis, with being a bit of a moody bastard, with the touching beauty (and horror) of being able to experience another person’s mind, with losing that, and hating it even more than you hated the power itself.

It’s powerful reading.

But it’s not the story my mind was imagining.

But then, that’s actually the joy of books really isn’t it. Seeing how someone elses mind works. It really is a joy; surprises come from that.

Now, us writers (ha) we know what that’s like from the inside, we’ve been surprised by ourselves, but its still not the same.

You can get so angry at an author when the characters don’t do what makes sense to you. But you remember, the characters aren’t you. The author isn’t you. You’re finding out things that don’t come from you.

Seeing into another persons mind.

Books are great.


I’ve kind of rushed this because I have to go to work, but still, what do you think?


6 thoughts on “Hopes and Schemes – The Promise of Fiction”

  1. Dying Inside is terrific. Have you read Son of Man and Downward to the Earth? Themes of transformation, reflections on the definition of humanity … all the mental heavy lifting.

    I love Silverberg’s work, up till the Lord Valentine books, which I thought were rubbish, but I’m not much given to mulipart series. Zelazny’s Amber books and the “Verbing an Adjective Noun” series (Incarnations of Immortality) from Piers Anthony are cases where I loved book one, mostly hated the rest.

    Sorry … where were we. Oh yes, seeing into the author’s mind. That’s why I hate the long series above. Love King, hate the Gunslinger series. It seems as though somewhere along the line a published, professional author stops getting worthwhile feedback. The publisher just polishes up any crap they get and sometimes the book’s a gold-plated turd. Why?

    I think a lot of it’s to do with the mental organization of the books. Having scribbled off a couple of novels under the pressure of the Three-Day Novel Contest I know how difficult it can be when you feel you have more than one great story thread to follow. But in the 3DNC you have to parse, to tease out a single thread that you think’s worth following.

    So do most novelists, originally. Because before they get famous their publishers won’t just assume that their names will sell crap. Then once they’ve had a string of hot sellers, the publisher stops assigning them editors and gives them an assistant or something. Some sort of enabler.

    Writer: Maybe I should make the hero fall unconscious and dream the entirety of the next novel.
    Ed. Assistant: Sounds like a great idea, honey. Will you have it in by April? Want me to bring you another glass of champagne? And how are the hot towels?

    So the writer is perhaps too free. Able to jot down any daft notion they like. It’s a glimpse one layer down from the tidy, edited version we’re used to, into the author’s chaotic creative subconscious.

    The net result, to me, often feels as though one were riding sedately along on the Tube and suddenly one saw that the track ahead did a loop-de-loop. It’s unfamiliar territory, and it might be fun, but you might really rather prefer not to find out.

  2. Loved reading this entry. Now my own imagination is going. It was too short though, and I had envisioned the author was going to grow flowers out of his ears during the suspense building part.

    I’m a little disappointed no flowers.

  3. metro- hello, i just read your comment and noticed you entered the 3-day writing contest. me too! I’ve entered three times but only produced a book once. It was the biggest pile of self-serving garbage I’ve ever seen, but it’s *my* garbage, so I felt pretty proud of it. Suffice to say, it didn’t win.

    Also, this thread brought unbidden to my mind a line from Wonderboys about making choices. Here’s the quote:

    Hannah Green: Grady, you know how in class you’re always telling us that writers make choices?
    Grady Tripp: Yeah.
    Hannah Green: And even though you’re book is really beautiful, I mean, amazingly beautiful, it’s… it’s at times… it’s… very detailed. You know, with the genealogies of everyone’s horses, and the dental records, and so on. And… I could be wrong, but it sort of reads in places like you didn’t make any choices. At all.

    I think this ties in, cuz when you start with the blank page, you’ve got eeeeveryone. You’ve got everything, every plot, every twist, every premise at your disposal. As you start to write and make choices about what your book/story is going to be, you’re also making choices about what it’s *not* going to be, and so writing is the double edged sword where you can exceed expectations, but (to each specific reader and their expectations) you can also lose potential with each choice you make. It’s hard to let go of that white space, the endless possibility.

  4. Metters,
    I think you’re right about the slack that authors get once they’re famous. But I’m still easily hooked upon series’. Occasionally they really hit the spot, though. Philip Jose Farmer’s Dayworld books stick in my head to this day (though I can’t find copies anywhere) and the Julian May cycle that covers the Saga of the Exiles, Intervention and the Galactic Milieu trilogy (8 books in all) is incredible.
    But writers do defintitely get pretty slack after a while (I enjoyed the first Lord Valentine book, but not the ones after).
    Nobody wants a gold plated turd.

    As for you Whabbit,
    Sorry for the lack of flowers.
    I’m actually quite annoyed that I rushed this entry out as I had a lot more I wanted to talk about…but yeah…I was on my way out to work. It’s a theme I’m likely to come back to though.
    To be fair however, you’ve done a pretty good jobn of summing up what I wanted to say with your talk of choices, possibilities and blank pages.
    Un-carved blocks and all that.
    Still…that feeling of carving a route out of the blankness, making something take shape….that’s what writing (and life) is all about.

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