Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ships Logs and (Admittedly Good) Flatfooted Prose

I am currently reading The Martian Race by Gregory Benford. It is a very good straight-ahead SF book. Well paced, and even though it jumps back and forth between two timelines in alternating chapters, I would say it uses straightforward storytelling. The first of the two timelines introduced takes place on Mars, as the team is finishing up the year-long mission and getting ready to leave for Earth. The other timeline takes place on Earth in the year of training before the launch. It is obviously a product of the late '90s in its pacing and vignettes designed to establish the characters before introducing moments of crisis.

Gregory Benford is a very good author; his science is sound, his plot is meticulously structured, and the book is gripping. But where is the sheer exuberance? Nowhere in his prose do I get a sense of being drunk on words, the sense of an old conman telling me a tale late at night in a ramshackle bar, and telling it so well that I willing go along--a sheep to be sheared happily, just for the joy of being a part of the tale. Where are the words sung by a bard gone blind from viewing the suns that were suns.

Benford's writing is a shining example of what the mainstream can provide. Admittedly, it is very good. But reading Lafferty has ruined me for even the best flatfooted prose. Benford writes with his feet planted firmly on the ground. Lafferty stands apart, and I'm not quite sure his feet reached all the way to the ground.

1 comment:

  1. Many writers of "hard SF" follow the lead of Hal Clement, who in the essay "Whirligig World" set up the genre as a kind of game between author and reader, where the former tries to build a physically coherent world and the latter tries to poke scientific holes in it. It can be well done but I often find it dire even so.

    The other way SF can lack exuberance is going not for technical precision, but a sort of tidy, bloodless prose that Lafferty in an essay (unpublished, naturally) called "heroic tedium." Benford's probably got a bit of both in him.