Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Suspension of Disbelief

I've been away for a while, I know. This has been mostly due to in an increase in work, personal activities, and enjoyable diversions. I intend on detailing the various things that transpired over the summer until now, such as attending The Amazing Meeting with my good friend Shane, my acquisition of a nook, various Android operating system upgrades, games, movies, and many other things.

Recently, thanks to many and varied books sent to me by a fellow hermit, I have been reading something other than books and articles geared toward hard science, politics, and skepticism. Somewhere along the lines, many years ago, I stopped enjoying books. That's not quite right. Either the time wasn't available, or the stress levels were too high, or there was an impending sense that I should be doing something, anything, other than getting involved with books and escaping the reality around me. See, music and games can be stopped. I can walk away from them when I need to do something. Books, on the other hand, are an investment -- and not just of money. To truly enjoy a story, I need to be able to relinquish my mind of what is happening around me, and dive in, listening to the characters' voices, seeing what they are wearing, where they live, and what they do. If there is a form of meditation that works for me (and doesn't come "on the rocks") it is reading.

After attending The Amazing Meeting, I bought a nook and started reading (baby steps) nonfiction books on history, astronomy, and politics. Then other things started to show up on my radar. Things that I'd not thought about reading in years. New things. New (to me) books and stories that looked that they would appeal to me.

I wondered if I could actually sit down with a high fantasy or science fiction novel and enjoy it like I did many years ago, before there was a perceived need to "put away such childish things." I didn't know if I could enjoy something that involved not ingenuity, but imagination on the part of the reader. Could I get lost in a story and enjoy the adventure, or would I be left thinking magic cannot exist or aliens invading Earth would have ships running old Mac-compatible operating systems that could be taken out with a simple computer virus?

I received a package a few weeks ago, containing comics, a journal, a sketch pad, and books. A couple of the books were geared toward younger readers (The Tale of Despereaux, The Magician's Elephant, and Odd and the Frost Giants), but seemed short enough that, even if I was "too old" for the stories, I would be able to read them in a sitting or two.

I was wrong about the being too old part. All of these books were clever, cute, and thoroughly engrossing. While the target audience was certainly for younger audiences, the authors certainly did not patronize the reader by using simple words, nor did they pull punches on concepts such as love, betrayal, pain, loss, and death. What the authors did do was express those things almost lyrically while maintaining an innocent perspective, thereby making those basic (yet complex) concepts and feelings comprehensible while not detracting one bit from the impact they had.

The last book from this batch was not intended for younger readers. If the previous three were butterscotch, then Sandman Slim is the hot sauce that tastes so good that you can't stop eating it because you know how much it's going to burn when you pause to catch your breath.

Saying it's gritty is a disservice to the book. Saying the humor is twisted is like saying Keith Moon could "sort of " play drums. It's dark, full of magic, thanatopsis, theotopsis (I made up a word, deal with it), and guns, all with the asylum known as Los Angeles as a backdrop for the whole story.

The author, Richard Kadrey, does a great job of sucking in the reader, and you cannot ignore the wild events and magic going on all around the main character. You immediately accept that this is how his world works. (Though to be fair, setting this in L.A. helps the very quick transition from your reality to the initial pages of Sandman Slim, and willing to accept each crazy turn as Kadrey turns your imagination's volume dial to eleven, and then begins painting new numbers around the dial.) He is gracious enough to give the readers (and characters) little breathers -- little moments of reflection to connect dots before jolting them back into the fray. 

I have never liked mysteries outside of those written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. They always seemed contrived, or had convenient explanations and resolutions. Like Scooby Doo cartoons, except without being steeped in Chinese tradition (just take my word for it -- just because there is a link does not mean you have to click it), having the length of The Pickwick Papers (and just because there is a reference to a book, does not mean you have to read it), and leaving the reader wondering if all he or she had to do was read the first and the last chapters in order to get those precious hours back while the solution presented itself in the first few pages. Even worse, sometimes these grand stories betray logic at the end to pull out something that wasn't even hinted at throughout the whole of the book (of course there was an alternate pocket dimension where the killer was hiding all of the evidence, silly detective).

Kadrey uses none of these conventions in Sandman Slim. He is very up front about what he is doing and what is in his world, and like his characters, pulls no punches almost to the point of underestimating the power that's being wielded. As I stated, it's a magical and lethal world intersecting with ours, but there's a logic to how everything is being used and why things exist. I couldn't put the book down and didn't want it to end. 

I guess that I'm hooked on reading again (which is good, because I'm running out of heroin needles), and have (due to the most recent package) even more books (yes, Kadrey's in there) to prove that I haven't lost the ability to relinquish my concrete mind (take that however you choose) to the fantastic. Being a skeptic about certain things does not mean one looks at paintings as a bunch of organized brush strokes, that music is simply frequencies, that computer games are just moving pixels, or that fiction "gets in the way" of the real world. I rather like leaving my disbelief at the door for a bit, and immersing myself in a few hundred pages of a reality not quite (or wholly unlike) my own.

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