Category Archives: Fiction

Next in the Continuing Saga of Mr. Darcy

Do you remember that bit of news on publishers seeking out fan-fic writers and a particular trilogy based on Pride and Prejudice? Will Duquette has read the first in that trilogy, An Assembly Such As This by Pamela Aidan. He says it isn’t all that bad. “Aidan’s Darcy is nevertheless an intriguing character, consistent with Austen’s Darcy.”

Speaking of fan-fic, November is National Novel Writing Month. I want to type out some fiction this month as well, not for a novel, but for sketches and stories. I may shove some of it to the blog so you have the “opportunity” to read or ignore it.

Robin Hood Redux Again

The Grumpy Old Bookman reports, “The new BBC TV series Robin Hood is turning out to be a disappointment, I fear, but if you’re up for a Robin Hood novel then Andrew Fish has a brand-new one for you: Erasmus Hobart and the Golden Arrow.” According to the book’s site, Erasmus Hobart and the Golden Arrow “explores what happens when a Nottinghamshire schoolteacher travels back in time to seek out the truth behind the Robin Hood legend,” and learns that Robin Hood was a crook.

I don’t know what to think of the book, but I do feel good about the author’s sensibilities from his rundown of Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: “The Kevin Costner version of the story was wrong on so many levels, from the use of a fifteenth century castle at Old Wardour, through to Costner’s complete failure at a British accent. Somehow, however, the film is still enjoyable, and Bryan Adams’ anthem sounds much better when you haven’t been subjected to it on the radio for weeks on end.”

The Litblog Co-op Pick: The Tale of a Rat

This quarter’s Read This pick from the Litblog Co-op is a curious tale of a Boston rat. No, it’s not political commentary. Ed Champion recommends it: “I was entirely unprepared to read a wry and remarkably thoughtful book about the state of imagination in American society. The book had teeth, perhaps a continuously growing set of rodent-like incisors ground to manageable size so that the teeth in question wouldn’t puncture the brain.”

Genes and Big Medical Questions

Speaking of Michael Crichton, his next book promises to have us asking some strange questions: “Could your loved one be missing some body parts? Is everyone at your dinner table of the same species? It’s 2006: do you know who all your children are? Do you know humans and chimpanzees differ in only 400 genes? Did you know one fifth of all your genes are owned by someone else? Could you and your family be pursued cross country just because you happen to have certain genes in your body?”

If we come to a point where we can define our bodies and our mental abilities while living or define them for our children (or by government mandate, one another’s children), then we will have lost our humanity or at least some of it. Mars Hill Audio has discussed this repeatedly, talking to Nigel Cameron about the ethics of current bio-technology. As C.S. Lewis said, if we gain the ability to define our attributes like we can software, we will not have conquered nature; we will have become its slave.

What do you think it means to be human? Are you and I really barely different than apes? Is your body only the vehicle for your soul or whatever is the real you inside?

Detective Novels: The Best Ones Are Written by Men

Maxine is calling for suggestions on strong detective novels written by women in response to David Montgomery’s list, 10 Greatest Detective Novels, which did not have one female author. Block, Chandler, Crumley, Hammett, Stout, and others make Montgomery’s list, and he explains in the comments on Petrona that he doesn’t like P.D. James and further: “My favorite contemporary female detective writers are probably Laura Lippman and Denise Hamilton. I think they’re both great writers, but neither quite cracked the list.”

An interesting discussion has begun. One commenter notes the dominance of American writers. That seems only natural to me. We, Americans, are the best in the world at everything, except maybe soccer and automobiles, so naturally we write the best detectives novels.

We blog better than anyone else too.

And stuff.

I will be ducking and running now.

13th Tale: A Deeply Moving Novel

Frank Wilson has a glowing review of Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, which is #5 on USA Today’s best-selling list though I didn’t see it on the American Booksellers Association list. Mr. Wilson writes, “One thing is certain: Those who buy and read this complex, compelling and, in the end, deeply moving novel are unlikely to feel they’ve been shortchanged.”

The publisher praises independent booksellers for The Thirteenth Tale‘s success, saying it reminds readers “of the kinds of books, such as Jane Eyre, that they read as a child.”

Win The Thirteenth Tale Limited Edition

I am told that anyone who visits www.thethirteenthtale.com before November 30, 2006, can enter to win a signed, leather-bound, limited-edition copy of The Thirteenth Tale from Simon & Schuster. Tell them you read about the contest on Brandywine Books, and we may win a copy too. Or you could give Mr. Holtsberry credit so he may win it.

This gothic suspense novel looks interest–the secret lives of authors and whatnot–and Amazon.com calls it “a rousing good ghost story.” But more than that, Frank Wilson says, “It’s maybe the best book I’ve read this year.” That’s got to mean something big.

Asking the Devil for the Lowdown

[first blogged on Halloween 2003] In honor of the upcoming season, let me write a bit about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s great short story, “Young Goodman Brown.” Many of us were forced to read it in high school, but maybe you didn’t. Reject that foul Stephen King novel! Banish that evil Anne Rice tome! Tolle lege* this short tale of a young man’s dreadful walk with the devil.

I think the reason “Young Goodman Brown” sticks in my mind as a great tale, other than my fascination with early America and affection for Hawthorne, is its clear description of how to set yourself up for believing a lie. Brown does three things in the first couple pages to seal his doom. He leaves his home at sunset to meet the devil in the forest. Apparently, he is searching for the truth. He wants to hear what the devil has to say for himself. And like an idiot, he starts his trip just before dusk. Darkness conceals many things, so if he really wanted to the truth, he would look for it in daylight when things can be seen for what they are. But at dusk, he walks deep into the forest–putting himself in a place where shadows conceal. How much can you see when you’re in a dense forest at night? Still, Brown thinks he can meet the father of lies in a place like this and reason with him. That’s his biggest mistake, and possibly the one which makes his doom inevitable. He thinks he can talk to the devil and parse his words for bits of truth. Of course, Old Scratch reels him in easily.

When Brown first objects to walking deeper into the trees, Old Scratch encourages him to present his arguments while they walk because he can always turn back. Too far, Brown says while walking. He must not be seen walking with the devil. Naturally, replies the devil, that’s why my dealings with your father and grandfather were kept secret. What! Can it be true? exclaims young Brown. Of course not, you idiot! You’re talking with the devil! He doesn’t tell the truth except to make a lie more plausible, because a slight miscalculation is an easier lie to shallow than a total fabrication. Brown doesn’t get it, unfortunately, so into the darkness he goes.

What about us? Do these steps apply to our quest for truth, even if we don’t have the devil penciled in for 10 p.m. Friday? Yes, they do.

1. Darkness conceals truth. Light describes wisdom and knowledge. Read the first few chapters of Proverbs for descriptions of wisdom and her methods. In order to shed light on the deep questions you’re asking, give yourself time and quiet reflection. Noise and busyness can act as clouds over the sun. Try to avoid them, but don’t think getting alone with your thoughts will draw all truth to you. You can come up with only so many answers when you’re the one confused.

2. Trees obstruct the light and hide the real world. In the forest, Brown found that the night only got darker. The same can happen to us in a forest of opinions. We can find wisdom in many counselors, but not all opinions are worth hearing. C.S. Lewis encouraged readers to postpone reading another contemporary book until they had read an old one, meaning a book written before last century. If we consume many modern books, we can become conditioned by a limited perspective particular to our day. By reading old books, we are better equipped to see beyond a limited modern perspective.

3. The devil does not have a worthy point of view. It’s common to try to hear both sides of an issue in order to form an unbiased opinion; but I’d like to suggest that some perspectives, some sides of particular issues, are completely wrong. Not everyone’s perspective is worth hearing. Some are logically inconsistent. Some are merely argumentative, taking up a position solely to conflict with another position. The better ones are internally sound, though they may be based on lies or ignorance. Some are completely right. It’s no shame to be partisan when your side is right.

I hope haven’t bored you back to your Doctorow novel. Have a good weekend, and try to avoid the cheap candy. Life is too short to eat waxy chocolate and those nasty orange rounds.

* “Take up and read”

Before the Brave New World

John Miller writes about the Soviet “Brave New World” written before Aldous Huxley’s. It is We by the shunned Russian novelist Yevgeny Zamyatin, completed in 1921 and release in a new English transation this month. It wasn’t published in Russia until 1988 because it harshly criticized the Evil Empire. Mr. Miller describes it:

We is also the product of a powerful imagination. It describes a futuristic world dominated by the One State, which is devoted to “mathematically infallible happiness.” Because freedom is supposedly the enemy of happiness, the One State strives to eradicate all marks of individuality. “To be original means to somehow stand out from others,” says one character. “Consequently, being original is to violate equality.”