Tag Archive: “sf”

Paying Attention to Point of View

Last month, SF Signal published a twopart “mind meld” on point of view in fiction. Earlier this year, the folks at Writing Excuses discussed the omniscient viewpoint. I encountered all of these discussions recently, and it got me thinking about point of view. At first I found it challenging to recall the perspective of books I’d previously read, even if they were among my favorites. With concentration, however, I realize I can figure it out for most examples that come to mind.

(Sometimes it’s obvious. It’s a good bet that stories with large ensemble casts – like The Song of Ice and Fire, to name a popular example – are told from a third person perspective that can follow the separate adventures of multiple characters.)

Conflicts are revealed from multiple perspectives; tension arises from wondering how these perspectives will converge – or collide.

In contrast to my fuzzy recollection of the narrative perspective of some past reads, I feel acutely aware of point of view now that I’ve encountered the discussions mentioned above. I am reading Ben Bova’s Titan, and the third person perspective seems conspicuous. Conflicts are revealed from multiple perspectives; tension arises from wondering how these perspectives will converge – or collide. The plot becomes an almost secondary source of suspense.

I can’t say that I prefer one perspective over another (well, second person perspective sure is an odd duck1), but I do think it enriches the reading experience to better understand how a story is told. There’s a parallel with science here: knowledge does not sap a system of wonder, but rather equips you recognize and appreciate its even deeper mysteries.

  1. To read a fascinating visual analysis of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” format, you decide to check out Christian Swinehart’s One Book, Many Readings.

Posted on Tuesday, September 11th, 2012.

Lord of Light, Ilium, and Mythology in SF

My appreciation of Dan Simmons’ novel Ilium was greatly enhanced by my prior reading, in translation, of the actual Iliad. A passing familiarity with some of Willy Shakespeare’s work was helpful, too. The sort of literary name-dropping and cultural cross-referencing encountered in Ilium is called “intertextuality” in word-nerd circles. Whatever; it served to weave the world inhabited by Ilium’s characters into the world inhabited by Ilium’s well-read readers, and that’s a nifty trick.

(And isn’t it interesting how references to familiar works of fiction or mythic tradition constitute references to the reader’s “real world”? Dude, what is reality, anyway? )

More recently, I read Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. A captivating book, and especially fun to figure out without any advance knowledge of the setting – so don’t read that Wikipedia synopsis if you plan to read the book. Suffice to say that the Lord of Light story is deeply rooted in the Hindu tradition. It’s a good read even if you don’t know much about Hinduism, but I suspect that, as with Ilium and the Iliad, the read would be richer if you did. I’m sure there are layers of foreshadowing and suspense transparent to me which add texture to the tale for those more familiar with the personalities and themes of Hindu mythology.

(A common concern of Ilium, Lord of Light, and many other parables, science fictional or not: the hubris of those who would be gods.)

So what are some other examples of how your familiarity with one set of stories informs your understanding and appreciation of another? Bonus question: how does real-world mythology contribute to fictional worldbuilding?

Posted on Monday, September 3rd, 2012.