Monday, August 24, 2009

A friend's reply to Lamb with some Austen Zombies thrown in

A number of months ago, I posted my reaction to Lamb by Christopher Moore. I then lent this book to my friend Sarah Bentley and told her to give it to someone else when she finished as I didn't want it back. Sarah likes video games and zombies (but also Jane Austen) so I wanted to get her view of the book. It's very much a raving sort of reaction, the sort emailed to a friend; she's given me permission to post her reaction here:

So I started out actually liking the book. It was like reading a fairy tale being retold!

And then everything went downhill and was horrible and annoying. And even though the author claims to have done research, I disbelieve him. He was unconvincing in the book and unconvincing in the afterward. The scene with the praising of the goddess Kali, it sounds like he only went to one source, which was Campbell's book, which was written during the British occupation of India. Yeah, that's totally unbiased opinion of someone else's belief being recorded right there. And roughly 1900 years out of the proper time. Gee, you think the religion might have changed a bit much? Especially since Kali doesn't even really show up in historical documents until 600 C.E.? Though, to be fair, there was a goddess who probably transmuted into Kali mentioned some thousand years prior to Christ. Even though when animals and men were sacrificed to her, it was only men and male animals. No women. Until the Thuggees, which were much, much later.

And if you're going to quote the Kama Sutra, than actually quote the damn Kama Sutra. Even though it wasn't properly compiled until about 200 years after Christ's supposed death and resurrection. Point is, this book did not sound well researched and just made stuff up. Which would be fine, if the author could have actually fit the made up stuff into the damn world. I mean, okay, the author is already working with a fairy tale, but he's also claiming that this fairy tale is something that has historical basis. Either make shit up, or actually base the damn story in real history. Don't make shit up and then claim to have done research.

And I felt like he had a lot of plot elements that he could have worked with, and didn't. And Biff and Joshua seemed to travel really, really quickly.

And I'm sorry, but even if you are using modern vernacular to tell a story, you cannot have a character say "Oh, jeez" two thousand years ago, because that is the shortened version of saying "Oh Jesus". You can have them using some other kind of modern vernacular, so long as it is not some form of Jesus's name!

Also, to quote the author, he says "I felt [an important question that] needed to be addressed, which is, "What if Jesus had known Kung Fu?"". Well, apparently nothing. Because it isn't like Jesus ever actually used Kung Fu, so why the hell would you bother to make a character learn Kung Fu if he isn't even going to use it?! Even Biff didn't get as much mileage out of that as he should have for the sake of the story. So why sacrifice historical accuracy for what is essentially a useless storyline?

This book was a trial in frustration and terrible writing. I can see why you don't want it back. But I can't think of anyone I hate enough to lend this book out to.

My response:
I think this is the problem with a lot of spoofs these days; there is no reaserch involved, not even an editor saying, "this needs to be more integrated," or "this is obviously anachronistic." I would argue that the reasons Lamb fails are the same as the knock-off Austen remixes. And the thing is, both of these were good enough concepts (fair reading materials have been founded upon less) it's just that they read as first drafts in which nothing as been called into question, including the fact that there are obvious historical differences. Yes, some anachronisms work, but if they are a key component of the book or the story you are playing with, they need to be incorporated into the story- and the seams need to be carefully hidden or embellished with pretty- and appropriate- trim. Something on which to muse: we enjoy A History of the World Part I, but not these recent knock-offs. Is this the key difference the medium used, or the way in which they were written and considered?

Also have you seen that Philip Pullman has a Jesus book coming out?

Sarah again:
Also, I think what made A History of the World Part I more enjoyable was that is was actually researched, crazily enough. Or at the very least, researched enough to be funny, and funny enough that anything anachronistic was amusing as opposed to annoying. Whereas my problem with say, the rewritten Austen books is that no woman in the Regency period would act that way, zombies and kung fu not withstanding. Possibly because no human would react that way, no matter the time period.

History of the World Part I works because the script is joking within the historical setting about the history that the story lines take place in. So if you are going to put zombies in the Regency era, you really should sacrifice the Kung Fu trope (Wait, you don't have enough money to give the girl's reasonable dowries, but you were able to take them to China? And like any respectable Dojo would have taken them on, anyways!) and make the story a dialog about the Regency era and how people back then would have reacted to zombies.

Granted, this would have taken talent and actually rewriting the books as opposed to adding the idiotic zombie plot in piecemeal, but there's a better chance of something halfway decent coming out of it.

Anyway, feel free to add your thoughts, opinions, and arguments. I've heard good things about Christopher Moore's other work, so if you suggest something else, we may try it out.

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