To Explain or Not To Explain

I’m not sure how things got so out of hand, but yesterday I actually talked about a writer who wasn’t me.

Well, that won’t happen again.

Back to me, and my reviews. Black Gate Magazine has Mark Tiedemann’s review of The Devil’s Alphabet, called The ABCs of DNA and Other Thorny Themes. Full disclosure: Mark’s a friend of mine going back to when we were classmates together in ’88. We talk about once every two years (it’s  a guy thing), but in this review he seems to have peeked inside my head and grokked everything I wanted Devil’s Alphabet to do, and more importantly, not do.  For example, this part of his review:

Gregory lays out a rather interesting theory of why this may have happened, based on quantum tunneling and a facet of the many-worlds model of the metaverse. It may not be what has happened, he doesn’t go there, it’s just a theory, one among several developed by people who don’t know and who still need an explanation. It’s the human urgency for something rational, no matter how far-fetched, that is important, not the one of several Sfnal conceits that he may favor. Why and how this happened is less important than the fact that it has happened, and these people must deal with it.

Something I struggled with in the book — that I struggle with in every book — is the question of How much to explain? Explain too little and the reader feels ripped off. Explain too much and the whole story feels too pat, too tidy–too unrealistic. This is a balancing act that probably varies by reader.

Paul Witcover addresses this in his review of the book, which came out in the latest issue of Realms of Fantasy Magazine. Magazine staffer Doug Cohen handed me the issue when I was in New York a few weeks ago.

The Devil’s Alphabet again showcases Gregory’s talent for drawing inspiration from rock songs and comic books and employing it in new and inventive ways, and similarly, using these fantastic milieus to explore deeper questions about family and community. While there are a few loose ends still left hanging by the end of the story, the journey is entertaining enough along the way that most readers should be willing to overlook them.

And that’s the trick — will readers overlook them? As they say on teh internets, YMMV.

Oh, and while I’m here I should mention a couple more things about Me and My Book. TDA made the British Fantasy Award Long-List (and it is a long list). Thanks, British readers!

And the book also made SF Site Top 5 for 2009. (They usually do a top 10, but evidently the editors only overlapped on a small selection of books this year.)  And TDA squeaked in at #5. The Other 4:

4.  Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson

3. Destroyer of Worlds: Kingdom of the Serpent, Book 3 by Mark Chadbourn

2. The City and the City by China Miéville

and 1. Dust of Dreams: Malazan Book of the Fallen, Volume 9 by Steven Erikson

Thanks, SFS people!


7 thoughts on “To Explain or Not To Explain

  1. Seriously? You’re on a list with something called ‘Destroyer of Worlds: Kingdom of the Serpent?’ How awesome is that?

    I struggle with the explanation issue. As a writer what I care about is people in an interesting situation and what they do about it. As a reader I want to know that there is some sort of explanation or at least that the author has some vague idea and isn’t just adding stuff when they’ve written themselves into a box. Continually throwing stuff into the mix annoys me (a lot. No, really. A lot). If the writer sets something up at the very beginning and stays within those parameters–whether the parameters are ever fully explained or not–is something I’m much more willing to go along with.

  2. Hey Deb, I think I know how to get on more of these lists: Colons.

    I’m always tempted to explain nothing. Just have weird shit happen and let the chips fall where they may, as in Saramago’s novel Blindness. Maybe because that’s how the world feels to me most of the time, that explanations are all provisional, subject to revision, and all final answers are postponed until some later date. And most of my characters aren’t the kind of people who are going to know the answers anyway.

  3. “I’m always tempted to explain nothing. Just have weird shit happen and let the chips fall where they may”

    Don’t, not after you’ve seen where it’s gotten me.

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