25 August 2016

Does drama end when the ending is well-known?

We went to a movie theater last year. We saw The Martian. It was likely the only movie we saw in a theater in 2015. We liked the movie. Even though it was as detailed as it was unlikely. Good fiction.

A while later, I picked up the book because it had been written about after the success of the movie. The book got mostly good "reviews" from readers. And the realists (scientists) gave it good marks too. Andy Weir, the author, had done lots of homework. He did the math about orbits, oxygen capacity of a Mars lander, the reproduction rate of potatoes, and mpg of a Mars rover. Much of that detail didn't get into the movie (thankfully), but a lot of it is in the book. I'd have been okay with a forward from the author telling me he'd done the math and hadn't stretched the truth too much. The details in the book did get in the way of telling the story.

But it's a good book. I really enjoyed reading it even though I knew the ending. The suspense and drama of the adventure survived the publicity and the fact that I'd seen the movie. That's a marvel to me. Remember Apollo 13, the movie about the near disaster aboard the third spacecraft sent to land people on the moon? Those of us who paid attention to the near disaster knew what happened and how it all ended. But my recollection of the movie was of great suspense. Of course, that required an extreme version of the "suspension of disbelief." But the movie worked.

Reading The Martian required a similar suspension of disbelief after seeing the movie and "knowing" the extreme improbability of the plot. Nonetheless, the movie worked. I was hanging on to the book and rapidly turning pages in the sections where there was action.

It worked right up to the end. The ending might have been well researched, but it seemed a bit too improbable. It was right up there with the ending of Gravity that rescued Sandra Bullock's character. Of course she had extraordinary help from a ghost.

The Martian was a good book. I found myself getting bogged down in the technical explanations, but it's possible to skim through those sections. I'm glad I read it.

Have you read The Martian? Write and tell this little bit of the world what you thought of it.

23 August 2016

Swedish red herrings

I have six books piled on the corner of my desk that I intend to write about. But this one had to go back to the library a couple days ago.

I made a quick stop at Northfield's library to grab a couple books for a weekend at Sidetrack. Without my "to read" list, I rather blindly walked through the mystery section. I grabbed Kjell Eriksson's The Hand That Trembles. (It was a quick stop, that's why I only got as far as Eriksson on the shelves.)

I'm pretty sure Eriksson isn't on my "to read" list, but he's Swedish, so he lives across only one national border from Norway. I took that as a recommendation. Both Swedes and Norwegians will take exception to my generalization. Eriksson even makes distinctions between people from Uppsala and people from the Swedish hinterlands north of there. (For Minnesotans, this is the place to insert an Iowa joke. For Iowans, it's the place to insert a Missouri joke, et cetera.)

As seems usual in Scandinavian novels, Eriksson tells several stories about murders and suicides. The roots of the stories go back to the Spanish Civil War, Cold War politics, and sex trafficking in Thailand.

I felt like I was reading forever to finish this book. In reality it only took eight days, and I had other things to do during that time. Some of the stories and characters were more engaging than others. I think Eriksson wanted to tell some stories and felt he had to tell others.

For instance, Eriksson doesn't use the title phrase "the hand that trembles" until he is two-thirds done telling his stories. The person whose hand trembles is a very interesting one, but only a minor character. I was unable to determine why that phrase made the title. But, if Eriksson wrote a book about her, I'd read it.

The detective who interviews the "trembler"  (more often than seems necessary) is also an interesting character. Those chapters read more fluidly than many of the others.

There are also more red herrings in the plots than I think are necessary. If Eriksson ditched the stories about the long-term feuds about the Spanish Civil War -- which have little or nothing to do with resolving a murder mystery -- the book wouldn't suffer (says me). But then the book might not be long enough for a Swedish winter.

You must also be tolerant of an off-kilter translation and "incomplete" editing. If you're more patient than I am, you might well enjoy all of this slow-motion tramp through rural Sweden, 1930's Spain, tourist trap Thailand, and even Bangalore, India.

Have you read The Hand That Trembles?

Write and tell this little bit of the world what you thought about it.