The Great Eastern Q1: Re-incarnation

1

In his review of this book in the Los Angeles Review of Book, Brian Evenson reflects that

"One remarkable thing about books is the way they start all over again, freshly renewed, each time we reread them. The character that dies in the final pages springs back to life again to spool through the same rituals of action and emotion in a way that the reader can still somehow find satisfying. A character in a book is never truly dead — as long as someone can turn back to the beginning, that character’s life is not even past."

In this book, the characters are not simply re-born in their old roles, but re-incarnated into new stories that their authors never imagined. Is this a worthwhile exercise? Do you want to read new stories about classic literary characters? What, if anything, separates this from 'fan fiction'?

Comments

  • 1

    I think the concept was worthwhile in this case. There's other fun reimagining of concepts from existing fiction out there - for example Anno Dracula (Kim Newman), and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Alan Moore). And all sorts of RPGs based on existing properties do this, though usually making use of the setting rather than the same protagonists. Then there's all sorts of Doctor Who, Star Wars and Star Trek novels, not necessarily based on existing film or TV material.

    I'm not sure there's a sharp divide between this and fan fiction. Maybe the fact it's professionally published?

  • 2

    Regardless of the quality of the book (more in another thread, I'm sure), I was looking forward to the mash-up of the fictional and historical characters. I agree with @dr_mitch 's points about shared worlds in RPGs, but those generally stay away from the lead characters in the source materials.

    Is this "fan fiction"? The shared-world idea isn't frequent in novels. I think most comics writing is in shared worlds, and often because the authors want to write for those characters.

    At least it wasn't slash fiction (I think).

  • 1

    The use of fictional characters from other authors is fine given the permission of the authors or the passage of the property to public domain. What use is made of that property is the province of the new work, and needs to be judged on its own merits.

  • 1

    I’ve read 20,000 Leagues but not Moby Dick, which I started reading at the same time I started The Great Eastern. I finished our selection but am less than a third of the way through Moby Dick. It’s not that I’m disliking it, but it’s not zippy by any means.

    I don’t mind the reincarnation (appropriation) of the characters. In fact, it makes me want to go back and reread 20,000 Leagues.

  • 0

    I don't feel this is the same as fan fiction - to me that suggests a work which is built around essentially the same world and presuppositions. So (for example) a novel which claimed to be Star Trek TNG fan fiction, but didn't in any way involve the central characters in their normal roles, and wasn't based around the Enterprise (relevant version) would struggle to find acceptance.

    This book takes two fictional characters from quite different novels, combines them with a number of real-world characters, places, and objects, and spins an entirely new yarn. The basic supposition is the introduction of unreal individuals into the real world, and how they might have affected real events in a behind-the-scenes way. As such, it seems to me a really interesting and potentially exciting prospect, and I expect we've all been thinking who might we bring together in such a combination.

    From the other discussion starters (I'm coming to this one after tackling several of the others), it seems clear that as a group we agree that the attempt does not entirely succeed. But I don't think it was inevitably doomed to failure: another author, treating the basic idea in another way, might have turned out a really gripping story.

    I liked probably the first half - partly to do with the introduction of Ahab, since I just didn't find his voice credible, but also because there seemed to be increasing numbers of sub-plots which were started and then forgotten and never tied up.

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:

    From the other discussion starters (I'm coming to this one after tackling several of the others), it seems clear that as a group we agree that the attempt does not entirely succeed. But I don't think it was inevitably doomed to failure: another author, treating the basic idea in another way, might have turned out a really gripping story.

    I agree with that. The description of the book, and the reviews about it, all suggested it was going to be a good book and one I'd enjoy. I was disappointed with the execution here, but not the intent.

    And while I'm here, I'm all for the club trying out new and different books. If you don't experiment, you don't stumble across new gems. Yes, there will be some misses mixed in with the hits, but that's what you'd expect.

  • 1

    @NeilNjae said:
    And while I'm here, I'm all for the club trying out new and different books. If you don't experiment, you don't stumble across new gems. Yes, there will be some misses mixed in with the hits, but that's what you'd expect.

    I’m not at all sorry I read this book.

  • 1

    I quite enjoyed the book, despite considering all of the criticisms quite valid. I did rather enjoy some of the writing passages, and I did have fun looking for deeper meaning from the text (maybe I invented it?) But I shall certainly think twice before recommending it.

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    I quite enjoyed the book, despite considering all of the criticisms quite valid. I did rather enjoy some of the writing passages, and I did have fun looking for deeper meaning from the text (maybe I invented it?) But I shall certainly think twice before recommending it.

    I love looking for deeper meaning in texts! Even if an author does not intend deeper meanings (which some critics consider to be a fallacy anyway), there are always connections to be explored that are not on the surface. Considering that much of our book literally took place under the surface....

  • 1
    > @NeilNjae said:
    > (Quote)
    > And while I'm here, I'm all for the club trying out new and different books. If you don't experiment, you don't stumble across new gems. Yes, there will be some misses mixed in with the hits, but that's what you'd expect.


    Amen to this, btw.
  • 1

    True! The book club got me hooked on Becky Chalmers!

  • 0

    Sorry to be late, but was away on vacation last week. @Apocryphal I think the current word for this kind of writing is 'pastiche,' as opposed to 'fan fiction.' Somehow fan fiction is childish, because it has not been authorised by a profit-seee(eek)ing publisher. I suppose a 'vanity press' might be a third kind of related thing.

    Anyway, I think the pastiche is very meta and post-modern. I think reading these is most often rather like listening to a lecture about a literary character, rather than meeting that character in their natural habitat. It likely exists only because copyright has run out, and so the monopoly enabling outrageous rent-seeking has ended, and the chattering class is facing the end of good times. I am (currently) bored of both the theories and stances associated with all this IP etc. BS. OTOH I thoroughly enjoy Elementary, and am happy to watch episodes when I already know the outcome. There is a delight in the craft that is perhaps something like watching a performance, rather than possessing an object.

    I think there is also a kind of confusion about the relation of memory and existence in this kind of thing that appeals to a certain kind of reader, perhaps the kind who doesn't wish to, won't, or can't read and learn. The Evanson quote typifies the kind of reading that has no effect on thinking, encouraging forgetfulness. Some books are good to read again because we know what will happen, not to find out what will happen. What is a good name for a nostalgia that thinks it is a fresh reality? Senility? Most people would consider it a terrible state indicating that (literal) death is near.

    Anyway, to end on a lighter note: Was Conan Doyle's Holmes after Reichenbach a pastiche? Certainly he didn't seem to be quite the same, although sojourns in Thibet seem to do that. Look what happened to Johnny English!

  • 0

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    Sorry to be late, but was away on vacation last week. @Apocryphal I think the current word for this kind of writing is 'pastiche,' as opposed to 'fan fiction.' Somehow fan fiction is childish, because it has not been authorised by a profit-seee(eek)ing publisher. I suppose a 'vanity press' might be a third kind of related thing.

    Vanity Press refers to a style of publishing rather than a particular genre or style of writing. It used to be used as a kind of insult word by the traditional publishing industry, to suggest that if you paid enough then someone would publish any old rubbish as a vanity project. The term has (happily) largely disappeared these days, with the rise of self-publishing platforms like Kindle, CreateSpace, Ingram Spark etc, and also of economical niche-market publishers who operate on more of a profit- and cost-sharing basis, rather than either expecting all payment up front, or working on an advance + royalty scheme.

    To everyone's relief, the publishing industry is diversifying in various ways, and authors (whether casual or professional) can choose from a variety of options. Indeed, many authors select different approaches for different books or genres.

  • 1

    I press my vanity so its creases are sharp!

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    Vanity Press refers to a style of publishing rather than a particular genre or style of writing. It used to be used as a kind of insult word by the traditional publishing industry, to suggest that if you paid enough then someone would publish any old rubbish as a vanity project. The term has (happily) largely disappeared these days, with the rise of self-publishing platforms like Kindle, CreateSpace, Ingram Spark etc, and also of economical niche-market publishers who operate on more of a profit- and cost-sharing basis, rather than either expecting all payment up front, or working on an advance + royalty scheme.

    To everyone's relief, the publishing industry is diversifying in various ways, and authors (whether casual or professional) can choose from a variety of options. Indeed, many authors select different approaches for different books or genres.

    Thanks @RichardAbbott. Couldn't agree more about the improvements in publishing, and the opportunities for readers that self-publishing provides. But while the term 'vanity publishing' may have disappeared, I think it is alive and well, e.g. in the academic field. Some people pay to publish their dissertation to get tenure, although it is perhaps more an investment in future earnings than a publishing project per se. Just the cost of doing business, the business being getting a revenue stream from some kind of popular serialisation i.e. lots of bums in seats. There is the (newish?) wrinkle of people grouping together to boost celebrity finances through ephemeral publishing, e.g. paying people to submit positive or negative reviews and comments. Luckily this never happens in gaming. It's just not worth it.

    Anyway, I don't this applies directly to this book. That said, I did spend some time asking myself how it got published - the decision tree I mean. The combinations of genre-maps with identity-branding by publishers suggest to me that there is a closer relation to publishing options and author(itative) decision-making than was apparent even a couple of decades ago. Publishers are more important for literary creativity than given credit for. Would this have been published if it was about the mad whaler Malcolm Thackery and the mysterious Prince Zollgrab (haven't checked if these character exist or not)? I don't think so. It's more of an idea than an actual thing. Like a lot of software I guess.

  • 1

    It's called "High Concept"

    From Wikipedia "High-concept is a type of artistic work that can be easily pitched with a succinctly stated premise. It can be contrasted with low-concept, which is more concerned with character development and other subtleties that are not as easily summarized."

  • 1
    I’m not sure if the concept changes depending who the characters are, though. The concept here is “Captain Nemo meets Captain Ahab in a battle for the soul of the 19th C.“ (which, btw, didn’t happen in this book). The high concept for Thackeray vs Zollgrab reads almost the same: “It’s _like_ Nemo meets Ahab in a battle for the soul of the 19th C.”
  • 0
    > @BarnerCobblewood said:
    > ...I did spend some time asking myself how it got published - the decision tree I mean. The combinations of genre-maps with identity-branding by publishers suggest to me that there is a closer relation to publishing options and author(itative) decision-making than was apparent even a couple of decades ago. Publishers are more important for literary creativity than given credit for. Would this have been published if it was about the mad whaler Malcolm Thackery and the mysterious Prince Zollgrab (haven't checked if these character exist or not)? I don't think so. It's more of an idea than an actual thing. Like a lot of software I guess.

    Yes, I agree. The vagaries of the publishing world are an eternal mystery to me. Both in fiction and nonfiction, some books get trad published that seem to have no more, and frequently rather less merit, than books that get overlooked.
Sign In or Register to comment.