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John Christopher, the Tripods and other stories. November 6, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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I’ve been rereading the Tripod quadrilogy – that is the original three books and a later and lesser addition that functions as a prequel. In my childhood it was a favourite text – as were a range of John Christopher’s other books, the Lotus Caves, The Guardians amongst them. The latter I liked a lot, its vision of a class based society riven between rural and urban was kind of chilling. WIld Jack, a later novel had a not dissimilar theme.

John Christopher, of course, whose actual name was Sam You’d, had a major career as an author of adult dystopian science fiction – I’ve mentioned it before, he was a purveyor in books like The Death of Grass and The World in Winter of not so cosy catastrophes. The Death of Grass in particular is hugely depressing, in a way kind of reactionary and paints an uncomfortable picture of human behaviours in extremis.

But I think his children’s books have much more heart – though they could be pretty gloomy too. Flawed narrators abound but somehow they get through despite those flaws. And there’s the possibility for growth. At this remove he’s actually slightly less bad (faint praise) than other writers during the period for female characters.

And it’s odd rereading the prequel Tripods book in a time of Brexit and more because at its heart is an examination of xenophobia and how that can be used to constrain freedom and both conceptually and practically limit horizons. The Tripods use it to push humanity back as a technological species to a sort of 19th century level and stop people from travelling. And those opposed are explicitly internationalist in their approach.

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1. Liberius - November 6, 2016

I read ‘the death of grass’ a few years ago, my general feeling on it was that narratively it falls apart somewhat towards the end almost like he ran out of ideas, they seem to get to their Westmorland refugee in the blink of an eye and all of a sudden. Depressing as it is I think the idea that we’re reliant on grass is very interesting and somewhat unique as a basis for a novel.

Speaking of narratives that fall away towards the end, I recently read Per Wahloo’s ‘the steel spring’, that raced a bit too much towards conclusion for me. Though the plot is interesting, (an inspector called upon to investigate the mysterious goings on inside his own state, thinly veiled Sweden, after it is cut off from the world following some sort of ‘outbreak’), and has the kind of critique of Sweden’s social democrats that is also a feature of the Beck novels. I did like it, although I question the pacing, but then I frequently do that, it’s something i think authors get wrong regularly.

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WorldbyStorm - November 6, 2016

Agreed completely. And it gets worse with pacing as books get longer and longer. I’ve been wading through Alastair Reynolds last but second and it is patchy.

That’s true re the actual concept re the death of grass. Kind of disturbing actually.

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2. Dermot O Connor - November 6, 2016

I only saw the Tripods TV show for the first time about 3 years ago. I had no memory of it airing first time around (HOW DID I MISS IT?).

The ‘making of’ details are amazing. They really pushed against the ability of the technology of the early 80s to make the show:

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WorldbyStorm - November 6, 2016

And they only got two thirds of the way there, but still very impressive.

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WorldbyStorm - November 6, 2016

Btw just on missing films and stuff. I’ve a theory that from 12 onwards people tune out of television or at least used to until the later teens. Though I’ve another theory that people tune out from their later teens until their early to mid 20s!

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Dermot O Connor - November 6, 2016

I was gutted (30 years late) by the loss of season 3. Still, found an excellent audio book that did a lovely job of finishing it. Might get round to the books one day.

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WorldbyStorm - November 6, 2016

I should do the audio thing too! The books are good.

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3. Gewerkschaftler - November 6, 2016

Vaguely related:

A couple of nights ago, too knackered to do anything else, I started reading some online previews – you know the first couple of chapters of an ebook from which you can get a taster – of some of the recent winners of the Hugo and Nebula awards in what might be termed ‘Fantasy’.

Plenty of good ideas but little that I could be bothered to continue with in terms of prose style, or even narrative technique. I used to read tremendous amounts of SF and Fantasy (about 3 novels a week at one point) in my youth and early adulthood, but now I’ve become much less tolerant of bad to middling writing. I need to take a certain degree of pleasure in the text itself. The kind you get in Banks, Ballard, Gibson or Le Guin.

Then I thought I’d try some of the Ice and Fire novels (aka Game of Thrones). And boy can the man write. There’s a lot of Basil Exposition because of the complexity of the story, but even that he manages with a fluidity and a forward drive that others would fall short of. He’s not a particularly visual writer, I’d say, which is why the TV series is a complement to the texts. Or so I’m told by people familiar with both.

I don’t think I could read Tolkein again for pleasure except aloud to children – which I have done in the past. But if I ever get to retire I might have a go at Mr. Martin’s epic.

Has anyone else read them? All of them?

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