petronia: (Default)
[personal profile] petronia
(At some point I will update the current book list. Other than Dunnett, it now contains Ballard, Delany, Bujold, Novik, Iain M. Banks, and more dark elves - I forgot about that part. XD;)

Done with The Game of Kings, a few chapters into book 2. I was talking to [personal profile] charmian - actually, quite a while back I remember telling Charmian that The Scarlet Pimpernel is a far more compelling experience when you're 11 and cannot guess the plot. Dunnett without the benefit of metagaming, on the other hand, strikes one as a recipe for disorder. XD; Primo, you have to know it's a freaking hexology, so you can afford to operate on the assumption (otherwise unsupported for great swathes of initial pagecount) that your protagonist has an actual motive for his actions. Secundo, it's one of those books where ghosts of authors both earlier and later crop up as plot-signposts at every turn, which is fine because there's quite enough plot to go around. It's sort of a picaresque novel scooshed into a spy novel (Le Carre) scooshed into a mystery novel (Christie) scooshed into a family drama scooshed into A YAWNING PIT OF HURT/COMFORT. Which I found pretty funny, because for h/c to work you need minimum theory of the emotional life of the character in question. XD; It's not a high bar and, at the point Dunnett kicks you off the cliff, you've crossed it - if your last name is Holmes or Poirot. I was in the act of craning around to pat myself on the back, proud of having figured out whoactuallydunnit - ahead of time, I foolishly thought - and suddenly Lymond was swooning prettily and getting shot with arrows. It was a change of pace. Mind you, he'd already had amnesia for like 30 seconds at that point.

Some notes:

1) The emotional life of the character... is, I have a horrible feeling, not tremendously different from T.E. Lawrence's. Like if this book were first person POV, which is structurally almost unimaginable; just much, much bitchier.

2) Not that you'd be reading this if you've not finished the book, but the mystery plays fair - if I'd known that I'd've brained harder. Mostly I sped along entertained by the trainwreck of Lymond's relationships with pretty much everyone ever. (Apart from Kristin Christian Stewart, who had an inappropriately Victorian finale.) It's weird because it's not that slashy, but I can't think of anything outside origslash where grown men start as much ridic *DRAMA* with each other as, say, Will Scott does with Lymond. At one point Lymond is like, son, I got 99 problems and you ain't even a... It dawned on me thereafter that he liked the kid. As a person. Much later Richard's all: out of sheer morbid curiosity, does Will Scott have any idea how old you are? And you're like, OH GOD. DON'T TELL ME. THAT ACTUALLY EXPLAINS SO MUCH.

Dunnett, of course, then proceeds not to tell you. All the information flow in the book basically happens like this.

3) That ineffable mid-20th-century style of historical fiction that makes no attempt to restrict its characters to period vocabulary or indeed thought paradigms (Becket, The Lion in Winter...). Lymond has access to all of his period and beyond, so I'm not saying Dunnett didn't research - she must've researched extensively. I'm saying these days she probably would have pitched this directly to HBO or the BBC.

4) And then, Lymond spends a couple of years... bumming around the Culter estate? Getting Mariotta to teach him Irish, apparently. It seems highly awkward. XD

I put a hold on book 4, but investigation of the catalogue indicates that book 3 is the only Dunnett book the library doesn't have, orz.

Date: 2011-04-23 02:26 pm (UTC)
sputnikhearts: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sputnikhearts
Oh, I'm going to be really interested to see how you respond/react to Ballard XD

Date: 2011-04-24 10:50 am (UTC)
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
From: [personal profile] charmian
I do recommend Banks as well. XD The Culture books, right? or some of his other stuff?

Date: 2011-04-26 05:48 am (UTC)
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
From: [personal profile] charmian
Oh yeah, that's the first one of the Culture books. It's also the weakest IMHO (actually, in most people's O).

Date: 2011-04-24 01:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rondaview.livejournal.com
NOOOOO don't skip Disorderly Knights! it's kind of necessary for book 4; 3 and 4 basically function as a duology. And I don't know if you'd find PiF quite as powerful if you haven't suffered through, er, I mean experienced the buildup in DK.

Quick thoughts because I gotta go rush off and slap some frosting on a friend's bday cake:

- At one point Lymond is like, son, I got 99 problems and you ain't even a... HAHAHAHAHA. You comedian, you.
- I didn't find GoT GoK very slashy either. (Have no fear: this will change in later books.) Except maybe for the parts where Richard does his painstakingly nurses you back to life just so I can brutally murder you bit. I swear, I wrote that into a slashfic when I was 16. Pretty sure there's a line in there somewhere that goes like "And then Richard fell to his knees and excitedly ran his hands over his brother's wounds." lol???
- Re: emotional life of the character in question: yes, I had trouble with this too. And I continue to have trouble with it through what I've read so far. If you're saying what I think you're saying, i.e. that it's possibly to detect some semblance of emotional interiority in Dunnett's characters, esp. Lymond, but only if you read really really carefully, then you may also find later books a mite exasperating. Because I do. I've read really really carefully and still I arrive at the end of the book with a cloud of question marks swarming about my ears: why did this character do this for Lymond? what were his/her motivations? Etc. Lymond in book 1 def feels like a big blank at times. I think he gets better in subsequent books (in terms of having a more visible emotional life) but Dunnett still maintains the narrative strategy of orbiting around her protag with a variety of supporting cast POVs, with the effect that there's still the occasional disjunct between what the reader feels is right and what Dunnett tells you is happening between her characters/in a character's emotional state.
- You do actually get Lymond's age eventually. XD

I APPROVE OF the Ballard, Delany, Bujold, and Iain M. Banks! Although of the three I've only actually read Banks. You going to start with the Player of Games, as per most peoples' recommendations?

Date: 2011-04-24 02:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] petronia.livejournal.com
Yeah, the whole Richard bit is exactly what I mean about metagaming Dunnett. Like, at that point sheer narrative logic was A RAGING RIVER sweeping away all in its path, such that I was surprised Tom Erskine didn't see it coming. XD;; If I were him I'd've been like, OK, you know what, Culter, you do your thing, Imma head back to Scotland. Go nuts! I will bet you ten Spanish doubloons this ends in a way that is less astonishing to me than it will be to you! Look for a cave, that would work awesomely. Maybe a log cabin.

I wasn't frustrated, per se, but I did feel like I had to constantly bring the entire toolkit to the table. XD; Lymond's emotions are implicit in his actions, what you can't expect is for other characters or the narrative to relay the analysis. eg. at the beginning of Queen's Play when they're about to get rammed by the other ship, and his first instinct is to unlock the galleys - which is such a huge step out of character that one registers it as such, even subconsciously. (I don't usually try to "figure out" mysteries, because I read faster than I cogitate. XD) It's like an Easter egg game where you keep unlocking secret levels of ALL ANGST.

I don't plan on skipping book 3, although I've stopped reading while I figure out if I genuinely want to order a used copy of book 3 only out of 6 online. >_> I have Consider Phlebas - conversely, out of these writers Banks is the only one I've never read at all.
Edited Date: 2011-04-24 02:45 am (UTC)
(deleted comment)

Date: 2011-04-25 04:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] petronia.livejournal.com
Sankyuu! This will keep me moving. ;D

Date: 2011-04-25 04:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rondaview.livejournal.com
...Seriously what is it with the smart peoples I am talking to on the Internets about Dunnett, I keep having to look up unfamiliar terms because my vocab has been vastly outpaced by the linguistic inventions of the interwebs since the last time I was involved on LJ in any significant capacity, circa 2006. Eg. I was talking to [livejournal.com profile] applegnat (who you should totally talk to about Lymond btw -- I think I've made this user rec before but I feel it is worth being eyeballed askance to do it again. SHE IS THAT AWESOME OKAY!) about Lymond and she kept using the term "fridging" in connection to Christian and I was like WHAT DOES THAT MEAN. But now I know! /irrelevance

Well, after you bring your whole toolkit to PiF, maybe you can explain to me, slowly and at length, why certain characters do the things they do. With Dunnett I am never sure if I failed to get something because it just wasn't there or because I am too much of a numbskull to live. :D

Have you got to the relevations in QP yet? See it coming at all? And yes, I do agree that QP is the slowest Lymond book. I liked the first half because asglaksgjlkag;ag heaping amounts of hurt/comfort (seriously? did not know I dug that stuff until Dunnett introduced this Outrageously Handsome Do Everything hero character and now all I want is to see him suffer), but the latter half, not so much. CAN'T WAIT FOR YOU TO GET TO DISORDERLY KNIGHTS/PiF HOLY COW.
From: [identity profile] rondaview.livejournal.com
PS. have you read Dhalgren??? I hear that is the best Delany book to start (and the best Delany book, period) if you've not read the author before.
From: [identity profile] petronia.livejournal.com
I haven't! It is never in the library (getting to be a theme). I also more or less started Delany at the top, because the earlier books were way shorter XD and you really do get the impression of watching this boy genius improve his thinking by leaps and bounds. And then I read a bit into his really later stuff. I'm at Stars in Your Pocket Like Grains of Sand.
Edited Date: 2011-04-25 05:48 pm (UTC)

Date: 2011-04-25 05:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] petronia.livejournal.com
Christian = ttly fridging, ttly unnecessary :/ (apart from the historical imperative of Tom Erskine marrying someone else I guess)

The thing about Lymond is he encompasses or overlaps several character archetypes, and one of them is the Light/Lelouche type - which I love for the sheer joy and acute hilarity of watching them go off like a windup toy, and no sympathy whatsoever. XD XD XD The sympathy I have for Lymond comes from elsewhere aspects.
(deleted comment)

Date: 2011-04-25 04:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rondaview.livejournal.com
Lymond during book 1 was quite difficult for me to get. This may or may not have had something to do with the fact that I am not used to putting that level of effort into unraveling snarls and snarls of plot threads (see: Sabina's remark above about Dunnett's maddening but effective tendency to tell you just enough about something to perk up your ears, but then WITHHOLDING THE REST OF THE JUICY BITS until the end of the book), and so b/c of the lack of steady grounding re: plot and also Lymond's motivations I spent a lot of book 1 engaged in much puzzled noggin scratching. But in books 2 through 4 (which is all I've read so far) Lymond's character is much more transparent. Whereas the motivations of other characters puzzle me, eg. Philippa at the beginning of PiF, Marthe at the end of PiF, the Jerott and Lymond relationship, etc.

(HI I AM A BIG FAN :D LET US EGG SABINA ON THROUGH BOOKS 2-6 TOGETHER!)

Date: 2011-04-28 12:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] supacat.livejournal.com
Hihi and yes! I am super excite about us egging and having millions of Dunnett conversations :DD

Niccolo is better! Niccolo is flawless. I think it tends to be less popular in fannish hearts because it doesn't have Lymond of the cornflower blue eyes in it. I love Lymond ridiculously, he owns my sixteen-year-old soul, but Niccolo is a much better drawn antihero, much more complex than Lymond. He doesn't have the glorious id quality of Lymond as a character but Dunnett is working on a completely different level in Niccolo and the insane levels of plotting and writing in those books create tensions and situations that ultimately blow Lymond out of the water.

I think with Lymond most of the tension and drive in the series comes from the internal tensions within Lymond himself. Or to put it another way, if Lymond would just take a chill pill and relax, there would be no story. Whereas in Niccolo the tensions within Niccolo are matched and even exceeded by the external tensions and the cause-and-effect situations that Niccolo is caught up in.

The character motivation stuff -- I wonder if there's an element with Dunnett of -- you have to be comfortable with uncertainty, and letting characters be spaces of possibility, because so often she defines a character space through action that is at odds with what you are being explicitly told, as you said.

Date: 2011-04-28 04:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] petronia.livejournal.com
Or to put it another way, if Lymond would just take a chill pill and relax, there would be no story.

Oh gawd I so wish he would take a chill pill!!!1 But no. Cocaine, I swear it, missed his true calling by 300 years.

I don't know that there wouldn't be a story... I mean, there's a full-fledged self-contained spy novel cum mystery novel in each of these. But it would be a lot more James Bondian.

Date: 2011-04-29 06:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rondaview.livejournal.com
Just so you know, I've ordered books 1 and 2 of the Niccolo series on the strength of your rec. :D:D:D I AM INCREDIBLY EXCITED. My love for multi-volume works knows no bounds. Have you read King Hereafter, btw?

you have to be comfortable with uncertainty, and letting characters be spaces of possibility
See, this is something that constantly puzzles me about this series. On one hand, clearly there are things that I missed in GoK that Sabina (and probably you, too) found simple enough to understand. As I accustomed myself to Dunnett's writing style, her stories read a lot more easily, but there are still things that give me trouble. (I didn't realize, for example, why Lymond did that thing that he did in PiF, which incites Jerott to a towering fury, until someone pointed it out to me in an email.) OTOH, could it simply be that whatever was giving me trouble -- be it a character arc or a plot twist -- was underdeveloped? I hesitate to draw a direct line from my lack of understanding to Dunnett's culpability; it's entirely possible that she left a lovingly laid crumb trail to help her readers draw the appropriate conclusions. At the same time, I remember how poorly developed the Richard/Mariotta relationship was in GoK; it wasn't just my slash bias, I really did not understand or sympathize with that union at all. The problem then becomes one of distinguishing where I went wrong and missed the trail and where Dunnett failed to prop up her characters with an adequate amount of exposition/back-story/what have you. Which isn't very easy but that's why I dragged Sabina into this with me, because I'm pretty sure she'd get it even if I didn't. XD

Date: 2011-04-29 08:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] petronia.livejournal.com
The problem with the Richard/Mariotta relationship is that the courtship is missing. It's like a 12-volume shoujo manga you start reading at book 6: you don't see them fall in love and get together, you see them generating massive misunderstandings and being miserable, and then you hit the conclusion and are like, Ohhhh they were CRAZY IN LOVE with each other all this time, that's why so much drama!

Dunnett's crumb trail that allows you to derive this ahead of time:

1) Everyone else behaves like this is a real relationship worth saving, esp. Sybilla (if it had been an arranged marriage her attitude would've been different methinks).

2) If they weren't in love with each other they wouldn't have been able to make each other that miserable out of sheer shoujo manga stupidity.

Not gonna lie, though, I wanted to bitchslap Mariotta through the entire sorry sequence. XD; I mean Richard was a dumbass but he was a dumbass like all manly men are dumbasses, basically, as a woman you have to give up the idea that dudes can read your mind, yanno? And I mean, when you look back on the story and realize Lymond didn't send those jewels and therefore had zero idea this was even happening until Mariotta landed on his doorstep. His life, man.

Date: 2011-04-25 04:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rondaview.livejournal.com
Er, when I said I am a big fan, I meant I was a big fan of you. Also of Dunnett -- a given -- but that comment was in reference to CP. Yeah.

So the plotting is naive, the books are structurally out of shape, and it lacks all the complex invisible mechanisms of her later series.
ARE YOU SAYING THAT NICCOLO IS EVEN BETTER? DO TELL. (Seriously, you don't know how incredibly happy that makes me. May my inexhaustible supply of Dunnett never dwindle!)

Date: 2011-04-26 05:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] petronia.livejournal.com
I wrote a comment last night here that didn't post, which is just as well as I think it was very muddled. XD; Basically it related my persistent sense of "metagaming" to the sort of extrapolation one does while creating fanon - filling in blanks with reasonable guesswork based on one's preexisting knowledge of... life and everything. But usually you know when you're analyzing canon or extrapolating fanon, yanno? XD I mean, FWIW I'm extrapolating what Dunnett wants me to extrapolate, since the plot then builds on these points; but either 1) the information is encoded in a way that I can't point to, or 2) a certain percentage of readers are going to go left instead of right and get lost. Given comments on Goodreads it seems to be the latter. XD;

IDK, maybe some readers do this all the time. XD; I know quite a few ppl who say they "metagame" all shoujo manga. But in 99% of books this is an optional approach.

Date: 2011-04-28 01:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] supacat.livejournal.com
I'm not sure if I'm metagaming when I read Dunnett, my experience feels more like I encounter a delineated character space that is sometimes an ambiguous space, and I just sort of -- hold it in my mind, until I receive the information that allows it to resolve. But, that's not a conscious or effortful process for me, I don't think about it as I'm doing it. I enjoy holding ambiguities or spaces inside myself as I read -- assuming the ambiguities are deliberate, that's an exciting experience of reading to me.

(Is this a Sensing-S/Intuiting-N divide in information processing?)

Date: 2011-04-28 10:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] petronia.livejournal.com
I don't know! Are you an S? I have working hypotheses - behavioural prediction models - of people (that I meet in real life, that is) and unknown knowns. My N means I come to the working hypotheses without intaking all the information potentially available over time, but because something about the initial pattern matches my experience. As I get older and meet more people (RL and fictional XD) this process has definitely gotten way faster and more accurate. Of course, I can still be wrong and often am. It's also not a consciously engaged effort.

Date: 2011-04-25 03:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] supacat.livejournal.com
OMG you are reading Dunnett! Can't wait to read all you thoughts as you progress.

OK I sort of wish you weren't reading Lymond as your First Dunnett. Lymond is bravura and fun in one way but is completely all over the place as a series. It's her first set of books and it's very much her . . . learning how to do stuff. So the plotting is naive, the books are structurally out of shape, and it lacks all the complex invisible mechanisms of her later series.

Lymond does have some terrific set pieces though, even in the earliest books. I loved Lymond disguised as Don Luis, I speak the Scottish perfecto. *_*

For all the flaws of that series, I remember rereading Game of Kings recently and being surprised at what Dunnett was pulling off even within the creaking structures of her early books. The set piece where Lymond demolishes Margaret with Will Scott hiding behind the arras (the first appearance of the Dunnett trademark dialogue set piece where characters just stand there and have these amazing ten-page-plus verbal takedown matches -- which become un-fricking-believable in the later Lymond books and reach their apotheosis in the Niccolo series) and I was like, holy shit, this is the first time the character of Margaret has appeared in the book, the reader has literally never seen her before, and yet she is carrying this huge ten page scene, arguably one of the most intense scenes in the book HOW DOES DUNNETT DO THIS?

It's weird because it's not that slashy, but I can't think of anything outside origslash where grown men start as much ridic *DRAMA* with each other as, say, Will Scott does with Lymond.

If your name is Holmes or Poirot, Lymond does canonically sleep with a few guys along the way, at least one in Queen's Play, at least one other later on, careful reading rewarded with slashiness, among other things. ;D

Hang in there with Queen's Play, it probably has the least narrative traction (page turning drive) of the series.

Date: 2011-04-25 05:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] petronia.livejournal.com
These are the books [livejournal.com profile] rondaview happens to be reading XD It's fun, though, on occasions when that option is available, to start at the beginning and watch an author's style develop. It smoothed out quite a bit from the first page of Game of Kings to the last. Structurally speaking it mostly just seemed from the outside like she had a lot of balls in the air, and that the difficult part was shuffling all the right people into the right geographic location at the right (or wrong) time. It made for an odd psychogeography of Scotland and northern England. XD; I'd be willing to believe that aspect goes invisible later on.

the first appearance of the Dunnett trademark dialogue set piece where characters just stand there and have these amazing ten-page-plus verbal takedown matches

Bawling, while writing this I was thinking, "How much will Cat want to kill me ded if I said this reminded me of those long scenes in Melusine of people being aggressively unpleasant at each other, only... infinitely better written..." Why does that series keep coming up in conversation!! It's actually the other reason I was reminded of Becket et al, because that's theatre when you get down to it. My instinctive answer to your rhetorical question was "Assume you've cast a great actress," which makes no sense and yet... it's probably what I would do if I had to. (A scene like that would be uncharted waters for me writing-wise. XD;)

Lymond does canonically sleep with a few guys along the way, at least one in Queen's Play

Bawling x 2, thx for letting me know, otherwise I would be there scratching my head for 15min like "did that actually happen" I'm sure.

I couldn't get a bead on Lymond in GoK? Like during the Margaret Lennox scene I actually thought, "I'm having trouble picturing this dude having sex with anybody." Part of that was circumstantial - like, here's a person who primo has a SMORGASBORD of control issues of uncertain provenance, secundo is very very very stressed out. XD; (While reading the second book I'm trying to get a feel for the slightly less stressed out Lymond.)

Date: 2011-04-28 01:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] supacat.livejournal.com
"How much will Cat want to kill me ded if I said this reminded me of those long scenes in Melusine of people being aggressively unpleasant at each other, only... infinitely better written..."

COMPARING LYMOND TO FELIX, BRB KILLING YOU THEN KILLING MYSELF

Date: 2011-04-28 05:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] petronia.livejournal.com
Narrative mechanics, not character! /crying Unless someone puts magic mushrooms in Lymond's soup so that he wanders around with all the symptoms of raging schizophrenia for a whole book thereafter. (At this remove I would not bet against something like that happening.)

Date: 2011-04-25 04:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] supacat.livejournal.com
I think the other thing about the Lymond series as Dunnett's juvenilia is that it is sooo adolescent. In the best possible way, but it's id fic, and you have to surrender yourself to it, just ride the waves of Lymond's ineffable inner pain, and all the High Drama. Yawning pit of hurt/comfort and raging river of narrative logic is a great way of putting it. There is so much more coming, lol.

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