May 14th, 2008, 12:05 PM
I like stories
Fair enough. Simmons's Hyperion has plenty of characters I found well developed and enjoyable.
Originally Posted by RimWorlder
May 14th, 2008, 12:32 PM
Old Fogey Fan
I think I've got hyperion also - let me go check
Not that I'd put hyperion - fire and ringworld in the same category personally - but for this exercise its sufficient that others thing they're similar.
(I'd class ringworld as 'hard sf', fire as 'new space opera' and hyperion as simply 'sf'; but that's me. I enjoyed hyperion and fire - although neither has made it to my 'must re-read' category, whereas ringworld is one of those books that I've bought multiple copies of to be able to keep on re-reading.)
May 14th, 2008, 01:23 PM
Old Fogey Fan
first things first:
hyperion and fire upon the deep are considerably longer than ringworld.
My editions of these books have fire upon the deep as approximately the same layout/font size as ringworld: Fire comes in at 610 pages - just a little under twice as long as RW.
My edition of hyperion has a smaller typeface; if it had been done up the same as Fire and RW - it would probably come to about the same length as Fire.
Secondly, RW was written/published 1970, the other two in the 90s.
The signifigance here is the sensibility of the genre and the tradition of the genre.
All three authors are near contemporaries, although Niven has about a decade on the other two. Niven and Vinge both began selling shorts in the 60s, to pretty much the same markets.
Simmons comes from a horror/ellison tradition and doesn't seem to have spent too much time with short stories.
When coming from a short story tradition, word count is priceless and make one sentence do the work of five or six is critical. If you were to go back and compare Vinges shorts with Niven's shorts, I'm sure you'd see the same tools being employed in the same manner, and you'd probably be making the same comments about both regarding 'sketchy' characters. (O'Henry, deMaupassant are masters at the one-line characterization for a 'literary' example).
When Ringworld was published, there was also a great deal of pressure on keeping novels within a manageable length (go back and take a look; about the longest novel from that time frame is Dune, and it is by far an exception rather than a rule.) 260 - 320 pages was about the average. Some were far shorter.
Now look at some of Niven's later works, where he's got time and space and I'm sure you'll see characters that are more than sketchy.
That's just background and circumstantial stuff, however.
When I find a couple of good examples from Fire and Hyper, I'll put them up here alongside one or two from RW to illustrate my real contention, which is this:
"modern" novels display their characterization in toto, both because the authors now have the publisher's support for longer lengths AND because there's been a major shift on the part of the reading public. The reading public does not want to have to work at figuring their characters out, they need it all laid out in front of them.
I think that for many who don't like the older works and lay their dissatisfaction at the feet of characterization, what we'll find is someone who doesn't have the necessary background to understand that a particular line of text means far more and implies far more than just what is written there. The real characterization is between the lines, not laid out on the page.
Giving authors more space to write longer pieces may in fact be a consequence of the changing readership; the books won't sell unless everything is laid out for the reader in black and white - no hinting or hard work allowed.
May 14th, 2008, 01:56 PM
I like stories
Although I see the validity in most of your points, I don't know what "hard work" I can do to make Speaker a more enjoyable character.
Originally Posted by RimWorlder
I'm hoping you have some contextual items to help me better understand. That's real talk, I'm not calling you out or anything. I really wanted Ringworld to fulfill something for me but It just didn't.
I also don't put much in to the "new era authors spoil older works for younger people" generalization. I enjoy PKD, Asimov and Clarke more than most new breed authors.
May 14th, 2008, 03:13 PM
Old Fogey Fan
I'm working on it - and I wasn't being intentionally antagonistic; I see a definite difference in the presentation of characters between "now" and "then" and am working on providing examples rather than merely opinion.
My personal belief is that its the same mechanism at work in other media - tv and movies particularly; the difference between a Hitchcock scene and a slasher flick scene. Hitchcock shows us a shadow on a shower curtaiin, a knife blade reflecting the light and then a little bloody water going down the drain. Carpenter or Tarantino shows us every bite, hack, slash, fountaining of blood, rendered limbs and pools of blood on the floor.
To me the necessity of going that route comes from two causes: a need for one-upsmanship (mostly to get funding) and an audience that becomes easily jaded because it can't make its own pictures in its own heads.
May 15th, 2008, 03:47 AM
my point re starting a negative thread was that you hadn't actually finished the book not that you'd started a negative thread.
As for characterisation, I don't want them fleshed out to the nth degree, which normally means a ton of pointless angst. A lot of what I've read, and Niven in particular, is for the delight of ideas/concepts. I think he gives his characters enough for the purposes of telling a good tale. Some of his ideas are truly awesome and one or two are becoming a little closer to home. Specifically I refer to organlegging, and the idea that we may introduce the death penalty for ever more trivial crimes, just to fuel an increasing demand for replacement parts, doesn't seem that far fetched to me. We already see sales of organs and there have been reports of people being snatched/kidnapped for 'harvesting'.
Niven has long been criticised for his characters and in particular his aliens. With regards to the Kintzi I would see merit in this, never did see that type of mindset rising to the point of space travel etc. But the rest I find quite fascinating, Puppeteers, Pak, Outsiders, Lightseeds and so on. Guess it always just comes down to personal tastes, but I like Ringworld as much now as when I first read it.
May 15th, 2008, 07:21 AM
I like stories
I have absolutely no problem with subtlety concerning characterization. I am an Erikson fan after all. I can enjoy character with very little laid out for me.
So long as their actions provide some depth to them. I didn't feel this was the case in Ringworld. Teela underwent some minor transformation and adversity. Louis did also on a slightly smaller scale. That was about it for me.
I have picked up The Man-Kzin Wars and The Ringworld Engineers also. Once I finish Morgans Kovacs series I'll start those.
May 15th, 2008, 10:35 AM
I liked Ringworld. It's a good book and sets the stage for other stories to follow.
May 23rd, 2008, 09:21 PM
Old Fogey Fan
Well, I finished the re-read of Ringworld early yesterday and here's one point about it I'd like to make:
the "characterization" in that novel was not directed at individuals, it was centered on inter-species relationship.
Niven set up a situation where representatives of multiple sentient species were forced into dangerous, life-threatening situations in which they had to rely on each other to survive. Under that kind of stress, they needed to learn about each other - get inside an alien's head - quickly and successfully.
They did make mistakes, of course, that's the spice. But look at what you've got:
a carnivore, an herbivore and, sitting in between them (and often mediating between them) an omnivore.
You've also got a 'next generation' human in Tella and, just to make the point even clearer, you've got Harloprillilar Hotrufan (not just a pun on the name but a literary pun on the fact that NO ONE can ever truly understand a femme fan - especially a Hot Tru Fan) - who is an off-shoot of Earth born humans and who thinks and acts from an entirely different cultural heritage.
Twisting that up marvellously is the premise that Nessus, according to his own kind, is insane. Great, not only do we have to try and figure out the motiviations of a totally non-humanoid alien, we've got to figure out one that's crazy.
Niven states early on (especially in relation to Nessus) that "culture determines sanity". Here we've got these four aliens (and make no mistake because Niven says so, Teela is NOT human) and they're creating a shared culture as they go - one that has not yet determined where the line between sanity and insanity lies.
Delving too deeply into individual personalities would have completely obscured this larger picture - but there's still plenty there to flesh them out: Nessus is insane, yet he's been appointed as THE commercial rep to known space by his people. He's racially cowardly, yet he leads an expedition to an unknown alien construct that necessitates his being in close proximity to at least one alien that would eat him as soon as look at him.
Louis Wu is 200 years old, a dandy who goes on twenty year solo sabbaticals; he falls in love with Teela and yet earlier muses on the possibility of taking a woman (unspecified, the only importance attached is that she be sexually attractive) locked up in stasis except when he needs her. He's smart and experienced enough to be able to discern the motivations of truly alien creatures, yet stupid and silly enough to laugh in a Kzin's face.
Speaker-to-Animals is a young Kzinti; he's controlled enough to serve as an ambassador to plains apes without eating any of them and he learns some valuable lessons during the trip - especially that sometimes the best way to challenge things is NOT to 'scream and leap'.
Teela is the real cypher - completely at the mercy of the winds of probability - falling in love when its 'good' for her, having non-fatal accidents when they're 'good' for her - probably the LEAST realized character in the whole story - and deliberately so. There's not much you can say about a character who exists entirely at one end of the probability bell curve; everything that happens to her will be good for her - even if they have disastrous consequences for those around her.
So, if you're looking for "characterization" realized in individuals in Ringworld, you're looking in the wrong place.
May 25th, 2008, 09:27 AM
Live Long & Suffer
That was a great analysis RW.
Originally Posted by RimWorlder
I think it exposes the problem of comparing SCIENCE Fiction to normal literature. Good science fiction has characteristics and possibilities so different from the rest of literature that comparisons don't make a lot of sense. Fantasy has some of those possibilities but it also doesn't have LOGICAL restrictions. It is like insisting on comparing a cat to a dog because they both have 4 legs. I also would not find it surprising that many good sci-fi writers might not be the best writers because the time they spend learning things that help make good SF may not leave so much time for learning good writing style (by the keepers of such standards) but good writers that do great characterization may not get the science even vaguely credible. So they end up writing nice fantasy and claiming it is sci-fi. Then we have lots of fans who like that stuff but don't really know the difference.
I find that so ironically disturbing in a society filled with computers and cell phones. Back in the 60's when I was reading sci-fi it never occurred to me that I would one day be walking down the street and have a telephone ring in my pocket.
May 25th, 2008, 07:16 PM
Old Fogey Fan
I realize that I haven't made my point re "characterization" comparisons between Ring, Hyper and Fire. I've really only had time to finish the re-read of Ring.
I also realize that I've not completely laid out my theory in regards to "sensory overload" substituting for characterization; I was hoping that a few good examples would leap out of Hyperion and Fire Upon the Deep and make my life a little easier, but such has not been the case.
I will say that it would be unfair (I think) to compare those three, as Hyperion IS a character study (with some 'maybe' marginally interesting 'things' thrown in); a comparison between Fire and Ring is probably more justified.
What I have articulated I think is that the time normally spent on individual characterization in a novel is, instead, devoted to the examination of a new 'culture' and it is, I think, a more than adequate substitute.
The other thing that I'd like to point out is that, within the greater scheme of the shifting of focus, by the main stream publishers within the SF genre (an avowed goal by many of them, which I personally disagree with) - from "old, gadget-oriented adventure tales" to "stories that hew to the standard conventions of mainstream literature", we need to be careful when putting a definition on what we mean by mainstream literary conventions.
This has typically been described, here and elsewhere, as 'more attention paid to characterization', 'more 'literary approaches to presentation' and 'themes that reflect more closely the concerns of present day society.
If someone is told that old SF has 'bad' characterization and new SF has 'good' characterization, they'll go looking for examples of one or the other and will usually end up agreeing with the stated prejudice. Instead, they should be asking 'what IS characterization' - because if we let the prejudices and definitions of a single publisher prevail, we're actually narrowing the field, rather than allowing it to expand and explore new territory. If every SF novel must feature fully-realized human beings with every day foibles and understandable motivations - there's no room for the man of the future who's motivations and concerns SHOULD NOT be understandable to us until they've been explained by the story.
Likewise, the believable 'other' (aliens in most cases) will never be seen again, and stories that take place on too grand a scale to bother with individuals will equally suffer.
SF is a literary form that has the potential to embrace every other literary form ever conceived, if even only through the hackneyed conventions of time travel or parallel universes. Insisiting that it conforms to the 'mainstream' rips the soul out of the genre.
Tags for this Thread