Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Cool Theory of Literature

I picked this up from a Locus Magazine interview of Steven Brust, best known for his novels about the assassin Vlad Taltos. I read one of them years ago -- possibly Jhereg, though I recall it too vaguely to say for sure. I loved the intrigue, the word use and the swordplay, but didn't like the immorality and I think it might have been a bit over my head because I have a recollection of never really grasping what was going on. This interview was done sometime in the 1980's, and to this day his comments resonate for me:

"This is my theory of literature, developed about 48 hours ago. Literature consists of cool stuff. Every form of literature is some writer's attempt to make the reader go, "Wow! Cool' When you hear a sentence like, 'I don't like horror' or 'I like rhythm & blues,' you've got to know how to interpret that -- it's not that straightforward. For most intelligent people it means, 'The standard things you find in horror that make it horror don't work for me. If the book is really spectacular and a magnificent piece of literature, I'm gonna dig it, but the mediocre stuff doesn't do it for me." If you say, 'I like rhythm & blues,' what you're saying is, "Even if it's mediocre, if it isn't all that great, the stuff that makes it R&B I get off on, turns my crank.'

"In the Cool Theory of Literuature, the object is to put as much cool stuff in the book as you can. Some of the cool stuff that really gets me off is a really finely turned sentence. I'm a Zelazny freak, and one of the things he does that I just adore is the way he can put together a sentence that makes me go 'Ahhh!' So I attempt to do that. Playing with the structure of the book is cool, because when I notice it as a reader, I'll say, 'Wait a minute -- every chapter he's had one of these happen, and they're building scenes across the book into... oh, wow, cool!'

"Now what is the cool stuff in fantasy? I can give you a real simple answer from my own work: Cloaks are cool, swords are cool. That's what makes it fantasy for me, my kind of fantasy. Other people probably think unicorns are cool. I don't; they bore me. So if something's a unicorn-and-elf kind of book, it's got to be really good for me to like it. People who like sf think clicky-clicky things, relays popping and lasers blasting rocketships are cool! As a matter of fact, I do too. But for me real cool means a rapier, a cloak -- I like it. It makes me smile."

Me again. I think the issue of "cool" in a book very much governs the degree to which a person likes it. Sometimes if there is enough of the cool, it can overshadow the not so cool.

I like heros with character and honor who start weak and end strong; horses, palaces, cloaks and swords. Sailing ships. Very cool. A touch of romance. Stories that resonate with Spiritual truth. Even cooler.

So what is cool for you?