Book reviews: Glasshouse, The Writers Journey

Glasshouse (Charles Stross, Ace, 2006, 352 pp.) 
Yes, that’s right, you’re getting two reviews for the price of one today. Having finished both books in the past week, I thought it would be nice to combine and expedite. Glasshouse was actually the final book of my Sci-Fi book club in San Francisco before I moved eastward. I don’t think they ever formally met to review it, but heck, I’ll give my review now:

Great! Disquieting in a good way. A little rushed at the end.

Without sacrificing my strong anti-spoiler stand, I can tell you that most of the book involves a character from a post-human future participating in a re-created simulation of late 20th/early 21st century life. This results in multiple opportunities to see our society from the outside, and appreciate how strange and even absurd some everyday things that we take for granted are. I think this is one of the highest functions sci-fi can serve. An additional layer of disquiet is provided by the fact that our narrator is someone who has undergone extensive self-induced memory restructuring (a kind of brain engineering not uncommon in this future). The result is that throughout, they can’t be quite sure who they were before the experiment, just what they’re doing there, and even which of their memories are real versus manufactured. This creates a feeling of being trapped inside a feeling of being trapped that is used to good dramatic purpose throughout.

About my only criticism is that the denouement feels very rushed. Things happen in 10 pages that easily could (and should) have been developed over 30-50 pages. I can’t hold a grudge though. As a writer, I can testify that endings are hard, and this book remains well worth the time of anyone who enjoys contemplating just what “self” is and how we use memory to construct it.          

The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers (Christopher Vogler, Michael Wiese Productions, 3rd. Edition, 2007, 407 pp.)

Speaking of being a writer, this is a GREAT book on writing and story structure. It’s written specifically with reference to film, Vogler being a professional story consultant for the movie industry, but the principles that he covers are applicable to stories of all kinds. Inherently so, since what he’s done is drawn upon the stages of the Hero’s Journey as originally written about by student of Carl Jung and mythologist extraordinaire Joseph Campbell.

Vogler uses the character archetypes and structures of myth repeatedly found worldwide, and shows how they’re employed in film as a way of teaching what makes a story work. Hence the use of a monster in the photo above to highlight the mythic aspects of the book.  

The Writers Journey was recommended to me by my friend Robert Evans of my former San Francisco writing group. Just as he promised, it proved very helpful with the screenplay that I’m currently working on. Besides which, it was delightful fun seeing examples of how universals of story structure and character development can be found in films ranging from The Wizard of Oz and The Lion King through Ordinary People and Pulp Fiction. Along the way, I gained a grudging admiration for Titanic, a strong desire to see more John Wayne movies, and even an interest in re-watching Beverly Hills Cop. Giving birth to that last wish is surely a feat that only a great writer could have accomplished!       

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