Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Easy on the Epic

I’ve been in a phase of late immersing myself in Epic Fiction. For example, since Thanksgiving, I have read the following works:

The Deerslayer – 662 pages

The Second World War – 783 pages

Finnegans Wake – 672 pages

The Crystal Cave / The Hollow Hills – 375 + 436 = 811 pages

Titus Groan – 519 pages

[The Second World War is not fiction, but any subject that encompasses five decades of history over six of the seven continents is worthy of the title “Epic.”]

Now, the allure of Epic Fiction is its potential to create truly believable wonderment in the imagination of the reader. This has to do primarily with the skill of the author, the world he creates and the character that populate it, and the ideas that flow in its telling. If I am to invest weeks of my life with a book of Epic Fiction, I want that potential to believable wonderment, or PBW, to be as high as possible.

In my semi-serious, spur-of-the-moment musing I see the PBW as some sort of logarithmic scale. Like decibel measurement. To keep it simple, a scale from 0 to 100. When this potential to believable wonderment, or PBW, reaches a maximum of 100, you know you’re reading Tolkien. As a cellar reference, a bottom-run basement at 0 (and I wouldn’t recommend this to any family member or friend) I’d place any work by Toni Morrison. Something solidly in the middle, for example, might be an Arthur C. Clarke or an Isaac Asimov. Bradbury or Heinlein might be one logarithmic level higher in PBW.

It’s highly subjective and barely thought out. But I mention it to bring up a point.

One never knows the personal PBW of a work of Epic Fiction. One might have a good idea, but lots of things can derail or enhance PBW. The risk here is that Epic fiction is, well, epic. And epic means length. Yes, range, depth and significance are all involved, but primarily we’re talkin’ book length, mercilessly measured in page count. Which translates into the time you will spend winding and wending your way through that particular world.

So, if the PBW is high, like Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg or Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny, the payoff is high. You want to stay in that world long after the final page has been drunk.

But … if the PBW is unexpectedly low, it can be tortuous to make your way to that THE END pronunciation on page ultimate. Especially if you consider it a badge of honor, as I do, to finish everything you start. Titus Groan had a PBW that peaked somewhere in the 60s in the first chapter and ever so slowwwwwwly declined parabolically to somewhere around the 30s. A hard book to finish.

Now, seeing that the average length of the books I’ve been reading recently is just south of 700 pages, I’m wondering if I can’t maximize my pleasure (remember: Reading is one of Hopper’s three true pleasures in this life, a daily hour of nonworry) by reading substantially shorter books with potentially rewarding PBWs, based on my intuitive ability to size up a book by holding it in my hands.

With this in mind, I intend to bang out (and review) the following seven SF novels by Easter, all staring at me from the bookshelf directly behind my desk:

The Road to Corlay, by Richard Cowper – 228 pages

Wolfhead, by Charles L. Harness – 217 pages

The Hero of Downways, by Michael G. Coney – 183 pages

The Space Merchants, by Pohl & Kornbluth – 216 pages

Midnight at the Well of Souls, by Jack Chalker – 360 pages

Between Planets, by Robert Heinlein – 183 pages

Citizen of the Galaxy, by Robert Heinlein – 248 pages

And for the book nerds out there, I will think harder to quantify this PBW concept and perhaps, if I’m satisfied with it, include a PBW ranking in my reviews.

Happy Reading!

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