Slow

If you look at just about any book ad or Amazon genre page, the words that most often jump out at you are “fast paced” and “thriller”. Or you might find phrases like, “the pages turn themselves”. Or subtitles packed with the words, “gripping”, “shocking”, “thrilling”.

As a reader, it seems to me, writers are hellbent on jacking up my blood pressure and giving me cardiac arrest. The scribblers are doing their best to push frenetically paced everything down my throat. Can’t wait to get my copy of the new gripping, thrill-packed, and shocking edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook, where the recipes make themselves.

I blame the furious pace of contemporary fiction and the taste for such stuff on generations that were raised watching Sesame Street. If any kid’s show was designed to produce and then cater to hyperactivity it is Sesame Street. For those of us raised on Captain Kangaroo, Sesame Street’s fevered pace is apoplectic.

Of course, there are those who disagree and they’re free to do so. As with anything, there is probably more than one cause. In addition to Sesame Street one could blame texting, with its abbreviations and clipped text.

Contemporary TV shows, playing to the Sesame Street generations, jump from scene to scene, throwing a tumult of disconnected storylines at the viewer that I often find it difficult to follow.

I know, I know, we baby boomers are dying off. Nobody gives a flying fig about what we think. But quite honestly, what’s the rush? Why do the pages have to turn themselves? Can’t I pause a moment and smell the fictional rose? Can’t we follow Simon and Garfunkel’s advice? “Slow down, you move too fast. Gotta make the morning last.” Seriously, night will come all too soon. Why rush it?

For me, a story is to savor. As with making friends, it takes time to get to know the characters and to decide if I want them for friends. So much of today’s writing is plot-driven tripe lacking in what makes life worth living: people, and beautiful things and experiences.

Just imagine if one of today’s thrilling writers were to write “Hills Like White Elephants”? The main characters would probably chug down their beers, and charge onto the train, without ever having a word of conversation. Yep, a fantastic story that.

I don’t want to bump and grind my way through a story. I want to savor it, like I do a cup of tea, or a plate of spaghetti with my favorite sauce, or a crumpet dripping with butter and orange marmalade.

For me, a slower paced story that is packed with suspense, and sprinkled with action, where I can grow to love the characters, and want to read more about them — that’s what I want to read.

I don’t want to read about cardboard people racing hell for leather through situation after situation that in the end I could not care less about.

Unfortunately, for me, what that means, practically speaking, is that entire genres and sub-genres are leaving my reading list. I even find myself abandoning contemporary fiction altogether, in favor of older books because the pacing is often slower, with a focus on building suspense and giving me a main character I care about.

Yes, I’m willing to admit I’m the odd man out. That I’m in the minority. Today’s majority wants herky-jerky story presentation and frantic action. But as P. F. Ford notes in his ads, if you want character and humor rather than blood and gore, then his books are for you.

Nice to know I am not alone.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Book Review: Beyond The Rails by Jack Tyler

beyond the rails

 

One of the defining features of the punk genres is a protagonist on the edge of society, which allows the author plenty of room to critique said society. This aspect is particularly true in cyberpunk, the original punk genre, and perhaps less so in others.

Jack Tyler, in his short story collection, Beyond The Rails, has given us not one, but five societal misfits and placed them in the colonial frontier of an alternative history 1880s Kenya. The social critique aspect of the punk genre comes in how the white and black Kenyans get along, drawing a contrast with actual history and our own contemporary society. The critique, though, is very understated. Mr Tyler just sort of slips it in. Only the adventure is heavy handed here and that’s a good thing.

Beyond The Rails has all the trappings of steampunk, airships, high adventure, fantastical inventions, and, of course, steam power. Mr Tyler has managed to capture the essence of Firefly and at the same time given us the field of an H Rider Haggard African adventure. And who doesn’t love She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed and Allen Quatermain?

There are six stories in the collection. The first three are independent and the last three actually form a novella in three parts. The first story, “The Botanist”, introduces us to the crew of the airship Kestrel and one Dr Nicholas Ellsworth. As with Firefly, the Kestrel takes on cargo and passengers for delivery beyond the end of the railroad line. And as with Firefly, the passenger we meet… Well, I won’t spoil things. If you know Firefly, you have an idea what happens. And if you don’t, you’ll just have to read the story.

I found the stories to be fun and engaging reads. They are unabashedly in the action/adventure realm, evoking the spirit of the stories I read as a kid. The focus is on the exciting story line and not so much on the characters. Which isn’t to say the crew of the Kestrel aren’t an interesting bunch of misfits — for they are. The focus, though, is on the story and not on changes or the lack thereof in the characters of the story.

As writers, we are told stories are either plot-driven or character-driven. As readers, we tend to prefer exciting and suspenseful stories (like, say, the Indiana Jones or Lara Croft yarns) or we tend to prefer stories that get into a character’s head and where the action tends to be not quite so exciting and perhaps not exciting at all (such as a Yasujiro Ozu movie or a Kazuo Ishiguro novel).

For me, from both a reading and writing perspective, it is character that matters. One of my favorite movies, Late Spring, directed by Yasujiro Ozu (1949), is very understated. There is only a minimalist story. However, the intense emotion that builds up between father and daughter is phenomenal.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good action/adventure story where the characters lean towards being stock, because I do—as long as the characters are interesting and colorful. Indiana Jones is certainly colorful, but he doesn’t change all that much even throughout the series of movies.

What Jack Tyler has given us in Beyond The Rails, is action and adventure with characters who are interesting enough to appeal to the most diehard character-driven story reader.

If you like steampunk, the stories of H Rider Haggard, Firefly, I think you’ll want to curl up with Beyond The Rails. I know I did and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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