Smoke and Soot

 

The Shape of Things to Come

The Shape of Things to Come

I am grateful to Wynn Parks who has written a further comment to my post No Future: Smashwords Review in which he quoted ‘a Greek song that sings about our lives as being sullied by the “smoke and soot” of living’. As he elaborates ‘The eyes of the self-righteous often over look the flame.’

My guess is that Wynn is expressing two things with regards to my reaction to Jim Bade‘s review. One is that life is never likely to be perfect, at least not in the way that many Americans seem to believe it should be, so writing an account of the world which illustrates that is a good thing. The other, I think, is that critics tend to see only the ‘smoke and soot’ in an account of the world that shows the bad things in life and disregard the ‘flame’ of (I guess) brilliance or illumination that generates this pollution.

Obviously, I agree with Wynn, otherwise I’d never write dystopian fiction. And I believe that Jim Bade would probably have preferred to read a book in which there was some strong central protagonist who either triumphs over nature or, if that were not possible, triumphs over the adversities of nature.

Instead, what we have are nearly a hundred almost self-contained chapters spread over each year in the next century or so which are loosely interlinked (either in terms of character or shared future history) and in which there are many protagonists of whom only a few are sympathetic in a conventional sense and where the general sense is of impending doom.

I have great sympathy for Jim Bade and indeed any reader of No Future. It is my most experimental novel and probably the one most difficult to get on with. I don’t think that’s because the writing style is obscure or difficult (which I don’t think it is), but simply because the novel’s structure is a string of short stories and vignettes that jump around in time where the normal narrative is subverted and where the focus is rather on how external events govern people’s lives. Furthermore, there is the immediate question of where the core of the novel lies.

In a sense, the central narrative is the life story of Alex who is a hugely fallible man seduced by power but more a happy beneficiary of chance who lives in a changing world but is barely touched by events, and a series of people both loosely and directly connected who either actively make things worse or try to prevent the worst happening and those who are mere victims. Some of these characters are the subject of only one or two chapters such as Phil or Chris, whilst others such as Iris (Alex’s daughter), Eden (Alex’s millionaire benefactor) and Eugenie (who is barely connected to Alex at all) are given more prominence.

I can’t really blame Jim Bade or other readers for not liking the novel given that his stated preferences are considerably more conventional, but in a sense this novel was probably not written for him in mind.

Who it was written for (other than myself) I’m not sure, but I’m gratified that Wynn has defended me against criticism and I hope that No Future is a novel that he’s enjoyed reading.

 

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