February 16, 2003
Fiction I like

The theory is that eventually there will be people who come here every few days or so but who never go to my blog-womb, Samizdata, from one month to the next. They prefer culture to politics, you see. So for any readers of this sort, here's the news that I have a semi-cultural piece up there today, about Tom Wolfe's reportage of the latest scientific dramas he has discovered, concerning Neuroscience. Well, maybe not the latest, because the book I have been reading (Hooking Up) was published three years ago. But quite late. The regular Samizdata fare this weekend is demonstrations and wars and men second-guessing each other about how to hurt each other. But Tom Wolfe is culture, and is especially liked by people who don't much care for a lot of what passes for culture these days. (See my previous two rather bad-tempered postings here.)

Tom Wolfe is one of my favourite writers, but I only really enjoy his factual reportage. His novels just strike me as great engineering bricks of reporting, with the names changed and the facts altered until they aren't actionable, and life's too short for that. Mine anyway. But when he keeps the original names, dates and places, as in The Right Stuff or (a key BCBlog text) The Painted Word, or in almost all of the stuff in Hooking Up, I just love it. I'm now deep into all the New Yorker bashing at the end.

Is there any fiction that I do like? Three writers spring to mind, among many more whom I'll doubtless be telling you about in the months and years to come.

There's Nick Hornby, who has done four books so far: Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, About A Boy, and How To Be Good. Fever Pitch began as a Tom Wolfe type piece of journalism, but then went on to be a fiction movie. It was the one about the crazed Arsenal supporter, originally Nick Hornby himself, but played in the movie by Colin (Mr D'Arcy) Firth. High Fidelity began as a novel set in London, and became a movie set in the USA starring John Cusack and the sublime Jack Black, who may never do anything better.

I like the New York Democrat (I assume) writer of what US critics presumably regard as only middlebrow fiction, Susan Isaacs, my two favourites by her being Intimate Relations and Magic Hour, the first being about New York Democrat politics, and the second being a detective mystery, with a great plot that ought not to be revealed.

It must mean something that almost all of these books that I like involve happily ending romances. I like that, presumably in part because I have yet to achieve such a resolution in my own personal life but live in hope, and also because I believe I have various girl-hormones sloshing around in my brain chemistry. Tom Wolfe's fiction doesn't tend to end with a happy romantic settlement. His typical plot is hubris-nemesis, rather than boy-meets-girl-boy-gets-girl.

And the third writer of fiction I would like to draw your attention to here is: me. So far I have managed to write just two short stories, numbers 1 and 3 in the Libertarian Alliance Fictions series. (And guess what? Both are available as html files as well as pdf! How did that happen? You can now copy, paste and denounce.)

Both are also about the way that people with energetically pursued plans often get ahead in life, but not in quite the ways they'd originally planned. In the first of these, the hero and heroine live happily ever after, but in the second the anti-hero commits suicide, in what I hope is an entertaining way and for entertaining reasons.

I like these stories a lot or I would not have published them. I write to amuse myself, and until that happens I'm not going to foist the stories on anyone else.

There are only two so far because I find it impossible to just sit down and write a story. For me, a short story worth telling is rather like a scientific discovery. You can't just whistle one up, any more than you can contrive a Unified Field Theory just because you would like to and have promised it to someone by next Friday. I am wrestling with two more stories, but so far I can't sort them out.

But, once I have thought a story through to the end, one of the signs that it is a real story is that it could just as well be told by somebody else, albeit in a different way, much as a rival scientist might pip you to publication with the same idea that you also had, wording it all rather differently, but essentially telling the exact same story. Another symptom of this same thing is that I often dangle half-baked plots in front of friends and ask them to help me with the baking. Art as collective discovery, rather than art as individual creation. Discuss.

My preferred method of telling my stories is to pack the maximum of plot information into the minimum of verbiage, and to set the wheels of the plot rapidly in motion immediately. Later I may choose to load some atmosphere onto one of the carriages, but first I like to get the train rattling along properly. From then on, gratuitous atmosphere allowing, the basic point is to get to the destination with the minimum of time-wasting. Others might tell what is essentially the same story but take several hundred pages doing it. I'm too lazy for that. Well, maybe not lazy. But when I do get results in my life, it is by keeping on doing lots of little things, little things (like little blog pieces) that others can probably spare the time for, rather than a few big things which they might ignore unless I became a Big Name.

But that's enough about me. What do you think of my stories?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:33 PM
Category: Literature