Saturday, July 04, 2015

Dull Steel

When people know that you read fantasy books, you get a lot of recommendations. Fantasy books often come in long series, demanding a lot of time from the reader, so fellow fans are usually eager to swap favorites. This was how I heard about a trilogy by Richard K. Morgan, beginning with a book titled The Steel Remains.

Independently of this, I'd been continuing with that intermittent search I mentioned a while back, the search for an interesting book with a gay protagonist. In that, I'd also came across mention of The Steel Remains. Among the three characters who share focus in the book, one is a gay man and another a lesbian. Feeling that two roads had precipitously intersected, I decided to give the book a shot.

I never finished it. This isn't unheard of for me, though it is rather rare. I tend to give books all the chances I can once I've begun. I'm not the fastest reader around, but I am generally fast enough that I'd just as soon give a bad book the opportunity to improve rather than bail on it. But I simply couldn't pull myself through The Steel Remains.

Richard Morgan did have some interesting character ideas. And he certainly used his unconventional protagonists in unconventional ways. But whatever he might have planned, his execution was quite simply terrible. His book is the work of an author trying way too hard to write with style.

Morgan takes a handful of writing techniques and works them to death. Sentence fragments are strewn everywhere. His metaphors and similes seem deliberately crafted to be awkward and pull the reader out of the flow. And virtually every chapter begins with the same device of concealing character perspective. It often takes a page or more for Morgan to concretely identify which of the main characters he's following, leaving the reader frequently confused and disoriented. Any one of these devices could have been used sparingly to good effect, but repeated ad nauseum, they quickly become off-putting.

Then there's more bad writing specific to the fantasy genre. The narrative is often paused for lengthy passages of world building that aren't remotely integrated with the story. Several names of families and cities are unpronounceable jumbles of letters, made even stranger with a smattering of hyphens and apostrophes. And the whole thing seemed too desperate to ride George R.R. Martin's coattails in its more explicit descriptions of sex and violence.

I made it fully two-thirds of the way through the book, occasionally pulled in when a character began to develop in an interesting way. But eventually, I got tired of the bad writing kicking me out of the flow. Realizing there were two more books in the series even if I could make it to the end of this one, I chose to cut my losses.

I suppose the fair grade to give the book would be "incomplete." I suppose it would also be fair to note that the person who pointed me to it specifically said it had a page-turner of a plot, and specifically hedged about how much he liked the book. But it's my blog, and I'll decide what's fair. I couldn't finish The Steel Remains, and I don't think anyone else should start. I give it an F.

No comments: