June 30th, 2005

Lexi in the woods

(no subject)

ozarque, also known as linguist and science fiction author Suzette Haden Elgin, posted a short piece on her LJ today, a glossary story called "Tale in Twelve Terms". The post before it explains what a glossary story is, and is worth reading first.

I think this is marvelous stuff. I've been a compulsive voracious reader for as long as I can remember, and a science fiction fan for only slightly less time. (Both my parents were voracious readers, the sort who used to do Dictionary Rallies. My family commonly spent time sitting silently in the same room, each of us contentedly engrossed in a book. spiritualmonkey thinks this is positively bizarre. Reading as a social activity? To us it seems perfectly normal.) When I was a child, my dad had years and years of back issues of Fantasy & Science Fiction and I spent hours reading and rereading them.

One of the abilities I admire most in a writer is good world-building. On its own, though world-building isn't enough. What really matters is how well a writer can draw the reader in and make the world come alive for them. Some are terrible at it - too much exposition-dumping will almost always get me to put a book down without finishing it.

Some writers are deft and skillful at it, and rather than dumping a heap of exposition into the reader's lap, they lay in a thread here and a strand there to draw the reader in. I love it when an author includes a detail that makes me wonder "Ooh, now what does that mean about this world?" instead of feeling compelled to explain every new concept the moment it's introduced.

"Tale in Twelve Terms" fits perfectly into this way of reading. Despite being quite a short piece (you shouldn't have to hit "page down" more than twice to reach the end), it's not something you can skim through quickly and go away knowing whodunnit, or what was done, or even whether something was done. It takes a bit more thought and gives your mind more to play with and think about.

If you've never read any of Elgin's books before, see if you can find a copy. Much of her fiction is sadly out of print, so used bookstores and libraries may be your best bet. I think the Native Tongue trilogy is wonderful and thought-provoking, even though it's horrific in a similar way to Margaret Atwood's book The Handmaid's Tale.