Resurfacing…gone again…

Evil Monkey: How’s the novel going?

Jeff: Very well.

Evil Monkey: Why do you look so cross-eyed?

Jeff: Just surfaced long enough to read this review by John Clute. It’s pretty much incomprehensible in places.

Evil Monkey: It’s not full of itself! It’s just full. I like when he uses the royal “we,” though. It’s cute. And when he explains things like “fix-up” and “suite”.

Jeff: Did you read it?

Evil Monkey: Yes. Should I translate it for you.

Jeff: Please do.

Evil Monkey: I’ve been doing this a lot lately. Here goes:

The Commons by Matthew Hughes is a fix-up novel in which a suite of stories has been laid out in chronological order, with a few added transitions. The problem with this kind of “fix-up” is that causality can suffer; what would be plot in a novel becomes merely a series of events.

Hughes doesn’t make any great leaps with the stories that comprise The Commons; the holistic quality of the experience doesn’t provide anything approaching some final epiphany, and thus the reader experiences, to use a scientific comparison, a physical rather than a chemical reaction.

But the main reason it was hard to like the book is because Hughes has been so clearly influenced by Jack Vance’s Dying Earth story suite, even though his own unique goals might have been better served by a different master. Vance embedded simple characters into a complex world as a way to make sense of that world. Hughes tries to use his own simple characters not as windows to his world but as agents of change in the world. The characters and the style are not up to the strain of this repurposing…

Jeff: That’s only the first part of the review.

Evil Monkey: The longer it goes on the more it devolves into the ramblings of a madman. I have not the time.

Jeff: I just thought I was stupid.

Evil Monkey: Not this time. Listen to this: “How close The Commons veers towards disaster, all the same, this review deposes backhandedly.”

Jeff: Do I have to listen to that? Is it brilliant?

Evil Monkey: No more brilliant than a review can ever be, Son of Squid! Now go forth and write thy novel! I shall assume a sitting position for all the holiday brickbats headed this way. For you too O Mushroom Child, O Ghost of Judgment Hasty, hath upon a raw day written a bloviated sentence or an under-weathered one. Cast not the first stoned hippy for if you do, he will be cast back upon you, and you shall have to feed him through the holidays! Avaunt!


  1. Aaron Singleton says

    Here’s is my review of Matt Hughes’ writings entire: They’re great fun to read. And, well… that’s it. Love ya, Matt.

  2. says

    Evil Monkey has some cause to talk, given that you yourself have reviewed no few books!

    Seriously, I adore Clute and I really enjoy talking to him about books and writing, but the man needs an editor in print and rarely gets one, or at least rarely gets one who’s willing to say, “Look, John, I’m sure whatever you’re saying is brilliant, but no one has a fucking clue what you’re talking about, please rephrase for the common man. And when you’re done, let’s have a chat about the importance of sentence structure.”

  3. Phil Maloney says

    While I nearly always enjoy reading Clute’s reviews, he is the only reviewer (in fact, just about the only
    writer, at least among those who cross my desk) who, on more than one occasion, has sent me to my
    dictionary. I think my vocabulary is fairly well above average in size, but I have to admit that neither “fustian” nor “desiderium”, for example, happened to be in it. (OK, I was pretty sure what the latter meant, but I still looked it up. The same goes for “anfractuous”.) I have also more than once had the experience of reaching the end of one of Clute’s reviews and found myself wondering: Did Clute think this book was good, or not?

    To his credit, he is also the only reviewer I know of who once prefaced one review by more or less retracting an earlier review of another book: he gave a (on the face of it, anyway) somewhat negative review to Alastair Reynold’s first novel, Revelation Space (****, IMO), which seemed to be driven in large part by Clute’s opinion that you can’t write space opera if you don’t have FTL drive (never mind the fact that Reynolds had just done it). A reader emailed Clute complaining about his unfairness in chastising Reynolds for violating a set of rules that Clute, by his own admission, had more or less just made up for the purposes of his review. Hence the retraction, in which Clute apologized for giving the impression that he thought less highly of Revelation Space than he actually did.