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(Some spoilers)

This is something I chatted briefly with tinyjo about at the weekend, and I apologise for going on about the same book again, but: I'd been considering writing a response to this piece by Matthew Cheney, which is partly about the actual merits of Ian R Macleod's novel The Light Ages and partly about how it was received. Before I got around to it, however, Trent Walters said much of what I was going to say at s1ngularity.

For instance, I don't disagree that in-genre hype is a problem - I don't see that anyone credibly can - but there were a couple of things in Cheney's specific criticisms that I could take issue with. Some of them are, admittedly, entirely subjective. I found the writing to be both lucid and immersive, and I thought the characters were interesting, if in many cases not exactly likeable. And in one case, I even agree with him - it is a slow book, and arguably too slow. Still, I'd be very reluctant to ascribe grammatical errors to Macleod rather than to his (somewhat uneducated) first-person narrator; and although he does single the novel's ending out for praise, I think it's perhaps more significant than he gives it credit for. However, see also Cheney's response to Walters, in the comment on the s1ngularity post.

Actually, Cheney also followed up with this fresh post on his own blog, whose comments in turn inspired this discussion from Walters (you'll have to scroll down a bit) of Cheryl Morgan's review. Her style is almost the polar opposite of Cheney's - his concern is primarily with the technical merit of the writing, and whether or not it was unjustly lauded; hers is with the broader argument of the novel - and in considering it I agree with Walters less; where he finds her final assessment of The Light Ages 'intriguing and profound', I find it mistaken.

Leaving aside the (to me, somewhat tenuous) Mieville/Macleod/cover art/politics theory that opens the review, her central argument is this: 'Macleod's message that all political revolutions are dangerous is trite and insulting to anyone who bothers to think deeply about politics. You always have to weigh the costs and benefits. The further message that proponents of revolution are naive dreamers who end up selling out is also simplistic and unsubtle.'

To the first point, I say that I think the novel is offering a model of social progression based on evolution rather than revolution; it's suggesting not simply that revolutions are dangerous, but that they don't often succeed, and that progress more commonly comes only in the smallest of increments, and those hard-won. To the second, I say that it's presenting the dangers of a revolution headed by naive dreamers, rather than suggesting that all revolutionaries are such. That's the key, I think; I see The Light Ages as being about what happens when fantasy meets reality. I think it offers one possible honest answer to that question and I think that's why, for me, it's such a fascinating novel.

EDIT: Note to peteyoung - the mumpsimus is the blog I was talking about this evening. The lj account is mumpsimus_feed.
I *really* need to read more. I do.
Niall has already 'outed' himself as an illiterate. ;-p
ys im not a man of lettrs.
Read Flowers for Algernon yet?
No. :-p

I read that at school. Like, for class. Like, Ages Ago[tm]
I'm never going to argue with someone saying that. ;-)

Finished Down and Out yet?
Don't say that! You're at the top of a slippery slope, and next thing you know you'll be getting subscriptions to Interzone and trying to write intelligent articles on biology in SF.
Hello, Niall,

Hope you'll forgive my poking around. Just wanted to drop in to say that I cannot quibble with Morgan simply because I was wanting to weigh in on the circumstantial evidence. I like what Morgan has to say because she's trying to read deeper into the works she reads.

Her problem, as I see it, is a common one among academicians: reading too much into single instances and/or creating too much out of circumstantial evidence. It may be that she has done this in .

Unfortunately, academics have had to do this in order to maintain their posts. They've created multiple pockets of dubious meaning where before there were only a few--because they must publish or perish.

This, in turn, has created an atmosphere among students of literature who think that one set of words can be created to mean anything.

If you think Morgan is mistaken in her interpretation, I highly recommend that you publically (and politely) state as much. Critics need to be criticized, too. Sharpen us, and we'll sharpen you, and eventually we'll have a great readership for great literary standards within the genre.


Trent Walters
Hi Trent -

Sorry for not replying to this before; LJ never sent me an email! I think you must have posted your comment when they were having server problems. And no, I have no problems with you 'poking around'. If I minded people reading it, I wouldn't have put it on the internet. ;-)

As to the case at hand - well, I don't feel inclined to start making a fuss now. That said, Macleod's new novel is due early next year, and set in the same world; I hope to re-read The Light Ages before then, and if I feel Macleod's still getting a rum deal I'll try to be less shy about speaking up.