Monday, April 18, 2011

Slant and Anathem

I just finished reading Greg Bear's cyberpunk novel Slant. A while ago, I read Neal Stephenson's recent work Anathem.

Now, both of these are very good books. I would never, ever say that Bear and Stephenson are not writers of excellence. They are also very different books. Slant is classic cyberpunk with the twist of biotech. Anathem is an alternate reality novel. So why did Slant remind me of Anathem?

Firstly, because they are both hard books to read. Now, I have no objection to hard books to read. I think C.J. Cherryh's Cyteen is absolutely great...and that is one hard book to read. They are dense and Slant tends to jump POVs almost too much.

Secondly, they both use a lot of 'conlang' - constructed language. I have nothing against this...used judiciously it can help the reader gain a sense of being in another place, another time. However, I felt that both of these novels were marred by the excessive use of unfamiliar words. For example, Anathem uses 'Fraa' instead of 'Brother'...obviously from friar (and referring to the book's strange atheist monks. But I found that jarring, when Brother or Friar would have served just as well.

Slant is guilty of some of the same things...the most annoying being 'touch' instead of 'call'. I can't envision that word ever being common parlance or understand its etymology. (And I would love to know where he got 'YOX' for immersive virtual reality, unless it's supposed to be a fictional brand name).

In both cases, instead of the differences from standard English pulling me into the story, I found they pushed me out of it, damaging suspension of disbelief and weakening two otherwise excellent books.

(Note: I purchased both books the government likes bloggers to declare if they're given books).