Ever since posting my review of Kill the Farm Boy, I’ve been thinking anew about The Princess Bride. I don’t think I understood until recently just how much it influenced my sense of storytelling.
I first saw the movie when I was in junior high. I was beginning to form an abiding interest in the craft and techniques of storytelling but I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time. It would be some years yet before this interest broke the surface of my subconscious and explicitly revealed itself. There are several movies and books from this period of my life which influenced my understanding of the subject without me realizing it.
Like most people of my generation, I fell in love with The Princess Bride the first time I saw it. It was sarcastic and funny with beautiful young leads—I was young and sarcastic and wanted to be funny and beautiful. It was romantic and I was deeply invested in the ideal of being a hopeless romantic.
Or, everyone said the movie was romantic. It talks about True Love a lot and it has the shape of a love story. But I never really bought that part of it.
Still, it bothers me when people critique Poet Voice primarily by comparing it to regular conversational voice. Poetry shouldn’t be treated like normal speech—it’s an elevated use of language and recitation should reflect that. Poetic recitation should be more performative, more crafted, distinct from casual conversation. Each word of a poem is significant and must be heard and understood.
The problem isn’t that Poet Voice is unnatural or different from conversational voice. The problem is that Poet Voice is boring.
Aaron Mahnke’s Lore podcast is one of the more fascinating and informative podcasts available. He explores the world of lore: folktales and legends—usually creepy or macabre—and shares the interesting things he finds. He’s an accomplished and entertaining storyteller.
Podcasts are subject to time constraints: there’s only so much you can fit into each episode. While the stories he shares with his listeners are clearly well researched, he doesn’t go into much depth with them. And that’s OK for a podcast—the point of these stories is to share them and entertain his audience. While he occasionally asks the Big Questions (“Why are we drawn to myths and legends like these? What purpose do they serve?” etc.) he never offers much more than cursory, broad strokes answers. Again, that’s fine for a podcast—he needs to focus each episode on telling the cool stories he finds.
I admit, I do find this idea fascinating: using storytelling techniques to envision new products and services, craft new vision and mission statements, new marketing campaigns, new strategic initiatives. I’d be interested to see what, if anything, comes of it.
I had a roommate once who had never read any SF before we moved in together. She saw my collection of science fiction and decided to give it a try.
She grabbed a book off my shelf at random—a far future, hard scifi title. Pretty advanced for her first exposure to the genre. She found it very frustrating.
She had no problem getting into the characters or the plot. She understood the science well enough and enjoyed how the author extrapolated it. She didn’t get too tripped up over the genre-specific vocabulary, either, although she did have to ask me what some of the acronyms stood for.
The problem was the setting. She couldn’t make sense of the world of the story, the environment. She didn’t know what things were and couldn’t picture them. Presented with an imagined far-future, alien setting, she felt lost and disoriented.
She was frustrated because she thought she was supposed to understand it. She felt like she was missing something, some key that would bring the world of the story into focus. Something to make it all make sense.
In my review of Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey, I compare reading it to reading Asimov’s Foundation when I was a kid.
I’m going to make the same comparison with the “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” series by Cixin Liu. Reading this awakens the same sense of discovery and amazement as reading Asimov when I was a child. Liu gifts us a story that’s astounding in scope and vision, with some of a biggest Big Ideas in science fiction.
The English translations of Liu’s work boast an admirable level of stylistic polish. There’s a spare and refreshing lyricism at work here. I’m as impressed with the quality of the translations as I am with Liu’s story.
This is what science fiction should be. I’m in awe of Liu’s imagination and accomplishment.