Saturday, June 25, 2011

Great moments in last night's reading: immersion vs travelogue in UF world-building

Gah! I've been so swamped, I haven't done one of my great moments posts forever, and I have tons of great moments I've made notes for to talk about. Okay, this one is from last month. 

Great Moments from Last Night's Reading
Book: The Sweet Scent of Blood by Suzanne McLeod
Page: 61
Spoiler level: zero

There’s a certain sly element of cool in Suzanne McLeod’s The Sweet Scent of Blood. I was thinking today about how she achieved it, and in part, I feel like she does something that a lot of my favorite ultra-contemporary, high-realism cable dramas do, like THE WIRE, or the movie INCEPTION, for example, in the sense that you’re admitted into a world, but not given a whole travelogue about it.

This creates a sheen of otherness, and so part of the fun and dazzle is to behold all the people and strange goings-on and piece things together. By the end, you get the ins and outs and back alleys, and it’s kind of satisfying. 

I don’t mean that the plot is hard to follow, though it’s certainly more complex than most, but more that you get the world through immersion.

This is especially true with the small details—the surface details. I was absolutely thrilled with this underground ride our main character Genny took. These goblins come onto her car. Gazza is a jerk. We’ve seen goblins before in the book - as literal minded bodyguards - but suddenly there are these other kinds of goblins. Here, the passage:
...His white translucent ears flicked like a rat’s and he clutched a gold lamé satchel tight to his chest, almost obscuring the London Underground badge on his navy boiler-suit – a gold embroidered ‘G’ that marked him as a Gatherer.
He slid a thin grey finger down his twitching nose. ‘Rubbish, miss.’ 
My disguise wasn’t good enough to trick a goblin, or even a vamp – not that it mattered. It was only the witches I was trying to fool. 
I shook my head at the goblin, then touched my own nose in reply. 
He patted the flap of his satchel. ‘Thankee, miss.’ 
The goblin clomped along to Gazza, his trainers flashed green with every step. ‘Rubbish, mister.’ 
Gazza sneered again. ‘Bugger off, you little creep.’ 
The goblin grinned up at him, baring black serrated teeth, three of them studded with square-cut garnets. He opened his mouth wide, leaned forward and snapped his teeth together with a loud crack, right next to Gazza’s cheap PVC-covered groin. ‘Rubbish, mister,’ he demanded.
Huddling against the door, his eyes wide, Gazza fumbled in his coat pocket, found something and offered it warily to the goblin. A stick of chewing gum, still wrapped.
Thin fingers plucked at it, then tucked it away inside the gold lamé satchel. ‘Thankee, mister.’ The goblin stamped his feet, leapt onto a seat and curled up in a ball, his arms hugging tight around his bag.
And that, to my memory, is the first and last we see or hear of these freak-ay goblin trash gatherers. Why are they asking people for trash? Why do they have gold lame satchels? What is the deal with the goblin stamping his feet, leaping onto a seat, and curling into a ball hugging his bag?

You never find out, and I absolutely loved that, because it made this strange world truly strange. If this was key to the plot, I might feel mystified or even left behind, but it’s not key to the plot. So it just became this quirky, random world detail that really made me as a reader feel like I’d gained entrée to a new land.

McLeod definitely takes a risk with this, because it’s such extreme ‘show-don’t-tell’, albeit for an insignificant surface detail.

I think a lot of other authors, including myself, might have given Genny some opinions about these guys as a way to guide the reader, like, “I don’t know what these goblins did with their trash or why the underground union employed them, but at least the cars were clean. Some speculated that… bla bla.” But wouldn’t that be boring? It is way cooler just to have them show up, collect trash that’s not even trash, and exit.

Because, isn’t how that is when you’re traveling in a foreign country? I enjoyed this effect. 

Image: The Fra Mauro map. Part of China. 1459, from Wiki Commons.


pattepoilue said...

I love that too. It makes the world she created even richer. I love Suzanne's writing for so many reasons and this is one of them. She keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering about the significance of every sentence. Just like another author I know who wrote a series about a Hypochondriac heroine ;)

Amber Scott Books said...

Ooooh. I love the detail and how real it makes the world! I'm adding this one to the TBR straight away!

Carolyn Crane said...

pattepoilue: It's a fun, rich, unusual world, isn't it? (also, thanks!!)

Amber: You'll have to tell me what you think!

Renee said...

Yes! You are so right about this. I find it really interesting, this sense of "otherness" amidst a real contemporary setting. Something I just love about UF, and Suzanne McLeod does really, really well. We never get all the pieces of the puzzle, do we? Which leaves the reader wanting for more, I think.

I'm just about to start book 2, The Cold Kiss of Death.

Suzanne McLeod said...

@Carolyn: Aw, thanks for some great & interesting thoughts! *blushes*

@Pattepoile: Thanks, hon! *hugs*

@AmberScottBooks: Thanks! Hope you enjoy!

@Renee: Thank you! Hope you enjoy Cold Kiss too :-D