A Tale of Two Stories

Pam Uphoff

I’ve recently read two stories and while I generally don’t do book reviews, I’m going to take a look at these two.

My sister convinced me to read “Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus. Yes, the #1 New York Times Bestseller. “The Catch 22 of early feminism” accord to themselves.

OMG! Drenched in Woke. And yet there was enough story there, enough humor there, that I read the whole thing. It was chaotically organized, full of plot holes, one stereotype after another . . . I mean every male character was either a boss, who abused and underpaid his male employees while sexually harassing all the female employees . . . or an abused, powerless, sop of an underling. Even the religious types, one abusive, the good one secretly confessing that he didn’t believe in God.

Oh, I should mention the plot. Female chemistry student in the 1960’s is forced to drop out of college after being raped by the professor she puts in the hospital, is fired from a job when her boyfriend dies and she’s seen to be pregnant, winds up hosting a cooking show until . . . oh, never mind.

The Main Character was fun, mostly. The dog was cute. Without the dog and the utter ripping up of the traditional cooking show, the book was sunk.

I’m a bit irritated with myself for sort of liking the book. Won’t reread it.

So, on to “Space Station Noir” by Arthur Mayor.

It was also chaotically organized, full of plot holes, one stereotype after another . . . And hysterically funny. And by chaotic, I mean, Clive (his human, not his real, name) reminisces in the middle of battles. Data dumps in the middle of battles. Well, where else, the whole book is one gunfight after another.

No rule of good writing left unmangled. Two POV characters, both told in the first person.

Oh, except for the “must be entertaining” rule. And the “must make the reader like the characters” rule.

Oh, plot . . . in a decaying Galactic Empire the space station Noir is a wretched hive of villainy and . . . sorry . . . The people—here after referred to as Hissers, the feathered masters of the aforementioned collapsing empire—and the humans (their captured slaves/pets/nuisances)—here after referred to as Monsters . . . Umm, where was I? Yes, an unlikely pair of friends Clive (Hisser) and Gunny (BIG Monster) are mercenaries, criminals for hire, just getting by, and having absolutely no intension of getting into the middle of galactic politics . . . especially when they’re about to go kinetic . . .

 So this one fell into the category of  “immediately buy the sequel, oh heck buy the rest of the five book series, you know you’re going to read them all.”

All of which goes to show you that if you can tell a good story you can break all the rules. Soak it in Woke, and you too can be a NYT Bestseller.

13 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Stories

  1. Fun. Yes, that’s important.

    Of course,,high drama is fun sometimes, so it’s an expansive definition

  2. Haven’t read or heard of “Lessons in Chemistry” though I imight take a look at it the next time I go to the library. “Space Station Noir” – OMG yes, everything you said it is. I have read the first three and I couldn’t tell you a damn thing that happened except that there’s lots of fighting, Clive and Gunny are best buds and there’s an assassination in there somewhere. And this series has graduated from “KU” to “Buy them all” for me. So much fun.

  3. I just read the second one myself and found it entertaining. (Mind you, not enough that I am compelled to read the rest of the series.)

    I noticed what you did, but what saved it for me (I think) is a couple of things:

    * Voice — there was great character voice for the primaries, and snark for everyone else
    * Noir — yes, it does capture some of the preposterousness of traditional “noir”, esp. the criminals
    * Offbeat sentimentality — animals, small children, bureaucrats, functionaries, hapless crooks
    * Amusing world-building — aliens-in-charge-as-chickens (more or less)
    * Vigor/Inventiveness — the action never stops
    * Gumption — all the characters you sympathize with are gung-ho and willing to cut their friends some slack

    I would read the rest, but my basic fondness is for characters with deeper feelings, and 5 books of this sort of humor would wear on me after a while (Larry Correia superfans might feel differently). Not my precise cup of tea, but I would recommend them to other readers.

    1. Yeah, this looks like a marginally more enthusiastic version of my own response to that book. I enjoyed the plot, admired the world-building, smiled at most of the funny stuff, and liked some of the innocent bystanders like Father Pete, but the two leads didn’t matter to me except as plot/humor vehicles. I spent most of the book rooting harder for Chicken-Palpatine/Tarkin/Richelieu than I did for the people I was supposed to care about. Liked it, might buy the sequels sometime, might recommend to the right person.

  4. “Is it fun?” I think that’s a question that far too many don’t ask, including us authors who want to sell (as opposed to authors who need to produce High Literature for a Select Audience.) “Will the readers care about [person/place/thing]?” It sounds as if you have to answer one of those with a resounding “Yes!!!!” and the other with a “pretty much,” or you need to go back and reconsider something.

    Unless you are writing grimdark cosmic horror, and know your fanbase really well. (Or are producing HLfaSA.)

  5. Today’s kids aren’t even educated enough to know that everything’s already been done. At least Gen Xers knew:

    All the great themes have been used up. Turned into theme parks.

    — Hard Harry

    1. Accurate though.

      Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again. — André Gide

      And so we faithfully repeat it through the ages, knowing that sometimes it sinks in for some people.

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