Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Ivanhoe Problem

So I finished Black/on/Black and now I'm reading David Drake's The Tank Lords, one of the Hammer's Slammers series. I'm hoping to have it and Stars/Over/Stars, the sequel to Black/on/Black, finished by the start of the con. I probably won't, but the new toy has made reading fun again, now that I can carry several books, plus my own manuscripts, in my pocket. I find myself reading during lunch, during breaks at work, during any sort of lull, really. I was suffering a bit of buyer's remorse right after I bought the Palm, but I'm hoping that the Frazier'sBrain Mobile Command Center will prove its worth at the con.

About Black/on/Black: I had avoided reading this for quite a while, mainly because of the main character (a seven-foot-tall fuzzy alien with fangs and claws who goes by the name of Heyoka Blackeagle). The alien species seemed terribly derivative of both Niven's Kzin and Cherryh's Chanur series, plus having an alien with an American Indian name seemed a little too precious. But when the author read a portion of a short story in progress featuring the same character, I was intrigued enough to hunt down the book and try it out, and I've got to say, I'm glad I did. It was pretty good.

The one big shortcoming for me is a matter of personal taste, a pet peeve I call the 'Ivanhoe Problem.' When I was young, I read a book titled Ivanhoe; I don't think it was the Sir Walter Scott version, but perhaps a novelization of the movie or a modernized version for younger readers. I remember liking parts of the book quite a lot, but I was horribly frustrated by one major feature of the book's plot.

Wilfred of Ivanhoe, the title character, is terribly wounded early in the book, and spends much of the plot being shuttled and hidden and cared for by Rebecca, only to emerge again toward the end to win the day in the big battle alongside Robin of Locksley. So for most of the book, instead of reading about the heroic knight whose adventures I'd signed on to read, I was reading about all of the plots and counter-plots surrounding the heroic knight, along with the efforts of the supporting cast to get the heroic knight into position for the climax. The "hero" I wanted to read about was lying in bed, sweating and shivering with fever and infection.

Once again, perhaps the balance is better in the original than the version I read (if indeed I read a different version - it was 30 years ago or so when I read it). But ever since, it has irritated me to one degree or another to open a book and get interested in a character, only to have that character torn to shreds and spend a long time recuperating. In Black/on/Black, we're introduced to two main characters on page one, and within a couple of chapters, they're both wounded and helpless and spend most of the rest of the book incapacitated in some way, being shuttled around by the supporting cast. I like the writing, and I like the characters, and I understand the impulse by the author to signal to the audience that the characters aren't invulnerable, but damn, I hope the sequel lets them stay on their feet a little more.

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