Handicapping the 21st Century Novel

Now that 2007 is well under way I thought it was time to look back at this new century and its literature. What are the great novels of the 2000’s?
Handicapping the Great 21st Century Novels – an interactive experience (special pre-Alpha preview)

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“Superb”… “magnificent”… “The best thing he has ever written” — the kinds of things that are said about almost every book that is published these days, from James Patterson to Mo Willems. Yet when I heard these same things said about Atonement by Ian McEwan, I somehow thought such praise was well-deserved.
Silly me.
The overall narrative is fairly light. There is the tale of Robbie and Cecilia (two star-crossed lovers), and the personal struggle of Briony, and then a handful of plot-driven characters in the background. The story spans five years or seventy, depending on whether you include the final section.

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2006 in Review

It used to be my practice to post a year-end review of books, but for the past two years I have been posting monthly (/semimonthly) summaries of recent reading, and I never wrote a 2005 review. If I recall correctly, there was a one month old child in the house at the time.
Errata: Some time during the past year I read A Room with a View by E. M. Forster, but it got left out somehow.
So, in the past year I made a concerted effort to read some forty-one books. Four of these were nonfiction, the rest fiction. Of the fiction, I abandoned or otherwise failed to finish four books, those four being:
* Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
* Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
* Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer
* JR by William Gaddis
There is a fair chance that I will eventually resume reading Dostoevsky or Gaddis, but no chance that I will finish the Willis or Sawyer volumes.
Out of all the fiction, I would say about eight of the books were of literary quality. The rest were fluff, but enjoyable fluff.
Best fiction of the year: Gateway by Frederik Pohl. Written in 1976, still a good read, and it motivated me to read several other books by Pohl.
Worst fiction of the year: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I have my doubts that Hosseini actually wrote the book, more likely there was an uncredited ghost writer/team of editors behind this.
Well, time to get back to reading. Currently working on: Not Even Wrong by Peter Woit.

Reading for November and December 2006

I did not finish either JR by William Gaddis or Hamlet on the Holodeck by Janet Murray. JR was interesting, but a little too much like trying to read a television.
I also did not get much beyond the first week of writing for NaNoWriMo.
I did read:
* Myth-ing Persons (1984)
* Little Myth Marker (1985)
* M.Y.T.H. inc. Link (1986)
by Robert Asprin. The series really hits its stride with Little Myth Marker, then Asprin’s writing output started sputtering in the 1990’s.
After a year on my shelf, I resumed Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy from page 500 or so. I still have about 40 pages to go.

Reading for October, 2006

Fool on the Hill by Matt Ruff, written 1988. This book came highly recommended by a coworker, and I tend to follow friendly suggestions (with the exception of certain authors I will not name here). An amusing book, some interesting ideas, with a very thin execution.
Sophie’s Choice by William Styron. I am actually only 80% through this. Styron passed away earlier this week.
Next: Either JR by William Gaddis, or Hamlet on the Holodeck by Janet Murray. Murray’s book is almost ten years old now, so I figured it might be worth another look.


As if I didn’t have enough to keep me busy, with a new job and a 10 month old daughter and a couple of pets and the holidays coming up, but it is November and that means it is time for National Novel Writing Month.
This will be my… third… fourth… fifth outing with the eight(?) year old event, which started in that dark age known as the DOT COM era. The current collection of speedy novelists is almost overrun with people writing, eh, fanfiction and related trash. Vampire romances. Surreal horror stories with talking rabbits. I’m writing science fiction.
In a brave gesture I plan on actually making sections of my novel available for download. I will set up an autoresponse address so people (if any) can get chapters in their email.
More details to come.

More Caesar IV observations

Finally, a review of Caesar IV that sounds like they have actually played the game: 6 out of 10 at Eurogamer. Most of the other reviews I’ve seen hardly look beyond the fancy 3D effects. (Of course this is an industry where over 50% of all titles rate 4 out of 5 stars.)
I’m almost done with the Republic campaign (cities 6-12) and things are still pretty easy. Rebuilding Carthage isn’t challenging yet, though it helps to understand some basic principles of the city system. Here’s how I play it:

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Caesar IV observations

Over the weekend I picked up a copy of Caesar IV for $30 at Fr-’s -l-ctr-n-cs. I played the demo a few weeks ago and was interested to see how some of the gameplay mechanisms were put together, since the new engine no longer uses “walkers” like in Caesar III.
Those walkers caused people a lot of problems in the previous game, myself included. Some walkers, like temple priests, would simply wander around at random, turning randomly at intersections. This meant that if you designed your streets where some houses had a small probability of getting a service over some interval, you would end up with these chaotic patterns where neighborhoods would devolve due to the lack of a service, and then the service would walk by and the houses would evolve upwards again. It was frustrating, but if you watched it long enough it would teach you something about randomness and probability.

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Reading for September, 2006

I spent a number of hours last month playing Caesar III and the demo for Caesar IV. I did a little light reading:
Books by Robert Asprin:
* Another Fine Myth published in 1978
* Myth Conceptions published in 1980
* Myth Directions published in 1982
* Hit or Myth published in 1983
I also read about a third of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I wasn’t really enjoying it, so I left it in the back of my car where it remains.
Now reading: Sophie’s Choice by William Styron. This, too, I am not enjoying.

Novel Handicapping, version 0.3.6

Recent updates to the 20th Century Novel handicapper:
More books! There are 429 books on the list.
New books include entries from the Time Magazine 100 Best Novels since 1923.
New categories:
- Laurels: Time Magazine 100 Best Novels
- Titular feature: Timely titles
- Titular feature: Colorful titles
- Narrative Element: Big Dumb Object
- Narrative Element: Drugs
- Narrative Structure: Graphic Novel
- Misc: Mythopoeic
Plus other assorted updates, more bildungsromans, more single word titles, and an endless number of screenplay-tagged novels.

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