[LMB] OT: Writer's tricks, expecting the reader to continue without understanding

Tony Zbaraschuk tonyz at eskimo.com
Fri Oct 12 14:58:36 BST 2018

On Thu, October 11, 2018 9:15 pm, Rachel wrote:
> I'm about 50 pages into Too Like Lighting and I'm vaguely irritated with
> it because I don't feel like I have a strong understanding of the world
> and of what's going on.

That ... is an issue with those books.  I love 'em, and I'm waiting really
impatiently for the last one.  Be aware that there are layers under layers
under layers of what's really going on here.  This is SF about people, but
it's SF about ideas, too, in a very good way.  Persist, and things will
become more clear.

> I wonder what determines an individual reader's
> tolerance of this, and how specifically writers think about how to provide
> enough information without making things dull or info-dump-y?

Jo Walton has a wonderful essay on "incluing", the process of putting
stuff in without making big obvious infodumps.


> I don't
> recall ever feeling lost in Lois's books, but I also re-read them so many
> times that I have surely lost any memory of what it was like to read them
> first? I think that Lois makes use of Barrayaran discomfort with the nexus
> to explain foreign behaviours, and makes use of non-Barrayaran characters
> to allow Miles to explain the ins and outs of Barayarran culture.

Having a stranger or two around so the in-culture characters can explain
things to them (and sometimes get to confront reality for the first time
as they have to explain their reality to someone who doesn't share it) is
a time-honored technique -- it goes back _at least_ to Homer (the opening
of the _Odyssey_ with a stranger arriving on the shore).

> I can think back on books that I've read and see a sort of continuum of
> this. I did not like Neuromancer (which, granter, I read quite young)
> because after finishing the book I felt like I STILL didn't know what had
> happened.

I share your pain. _Something_ happened, but it's not entirely clear _what_.

> Things in Too Like Lighting are slotting into place, but I
> still feel like there are too many things still hanging for me to keep
> track of them.

That's how the characters feel, too: this is the moment of "we thought the
world was fixed, and now we realize it's starting to spin off its axis"
happening.  Utopia has cracks in its foundation... and new things are
growing in them.

> I think Fifth Season held a little more explanation back
> than Lois's books do, but it was just perfect for me. Though I have
> friends who find even Lois' books a bit confusing, and have heard
> complaints before from non SF readers that they don't feel familiar enough
> with the language and creatures of SF to know what's going on.

See Jo Walton's essay referred to above ;)  We forget, sometimes, just how
much experience we have reading SF and knowing various terms and various
techniques of reading, to see how it looks like to people who are really
new to it.  (The people who read very literary fiction probably feel the
same way about many of us.)

Tony Z

Et vocavit Deus, "Fiat lux!"

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