At a glance: A Fisherman of the Inland Sea

I just finished reading A Fisherman of the Inland Sea by Ursula K. Le Guin. Admittedly, the book has been out for a couple of decades, so you can probably survive without my thoughts on the matter. But the book came out before the internet, so maybe the internet is not clogged with reviews? Nah, she's famous. I'm sure they're there. To avoid idea-infection, I very carefully avoided researching the question. And she is famous for good reason. This feminist pioneer sci-fi writer knows what she's about.

Le Guin continues to be a good read, even in a time so alien to her own. Of course, she mostly writes about aliens, so this is no surprise. There isn't much to date the stories except for the date of publication. The book was enjoyable, but not every story was engrossing. As a collection, it did suffer from incoherency and structure. It would have been stronger if halved. Some stories were just tossed in but were disruptive to the strongly developed verse of the others.

This book contains an introduction and eight stories. If you read the introduction, it provides a guide for what to read and what to skip, but I didn't listen. She says she wouldn't explain two of the stories because they are jokes. Unfortunately, humor must have evolved beyond recognition since the early 80's and 90's.

Another is a story that originated from a single sentence someone else wrote in a workshop. It's a damn good sentence; you can skip the story.

Three of the stories have the makings of an excellent book. They build on each other. They explore the implications of a theory in a changing and engaging way. This is a universe traditionally limited by light speed. In comes Churten theory, or transilience, and you can be somewhere in the blink of an eye. But at what cost? Gone is the deeply human process of cause and effect. Of chronology. Of sanity. It's a beautiful synthesis of story and philosophy. If the whole collection continued developing this, or even led up to it, I would strongly recommend the book. The title story is the best, FYI.

Le Guin uses a traditional narrative approach, which is perhaps necessary. A postmodern approach to transilience would be bewildering; it would necessitate a rejection of chronology in the text, heavily influenced by stream of consciousness, and could be best expressed by text printed over other text for a more proper experience of simultaneity, and perhaps only as a hypertext web.


Verse vs Verse

In varying degrees, there is a certain poetry to prose. Hemingway didn't hold with girly things like poetry and description. That's why, as well as a poor structure for dialogue, The Old Man and the Sea is so bleak. Other writers, in the Faulkner fashion, try to inject poetry into every turn of phrase. This sometimes leaves the reader lost in abstraction trying to pass as plot and character.

The amount of wordplay and poetry in the writing gives a certain feel to the text. Wordy, writerly, ornate, extravagant, flowery text must only fill a certain percent of the novel. Purple prose by any other name would overfill a tweet. If verse crowds out the plot or characters, the readers may be found lying dead, smothered on their couches, book draped over their face. A purple shroud. On the other hand, if the prose lacks poetry, you may be better off reading a newspaper to tally puns in the titles.

The words create a sense of atmosphere which is critical to the story's universe (or at least to preserve life on the planet). An honorable knight can only exist in the two dimensional space of parchment, scrawled over with epic poetry. Cthulu can only breathe in Lovecraft's dripping, overwrought, and anxious prose. No matter what world your fiction is placed in, your tone needs to match it and supplement the story. This applies especially if it is fantastical or sci-fi; you need to find a tone that will aid and abet the suspension of disbelief.

Twilight and every other supernatural romance is changing the tone for the supernatural from the unnatural to the pedestrian romance. But hey, it sparkles. There must still be some magic! A farce, but in a sense it works; the twilit tone is one of denial. Denial that vampires are a bloodthirsty lot. Denial that the relationship is inherently and utterly deranged. Please, dear supernatural romance writers, kick it up a notch. I think it is high time that this genre takes its psychopathology out into the open.