Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I just finished The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr, a "further adventure" of Sherlock Holmes.

It's a pretty good Holmes story, involving Scottish nationalists, a hoax ghost (or is it real?) and some medieval siege equipment. The beginning and middle, where the atmosphere is developed and it is carried by Holmes and Watson's interactions, are stronger than the end, which is dominated by action sequences and less interesting conclusions.

One minor complaint - why do writers who want to do a new Sherlock Holmes story insist on throwing in references to the other stories, something that does not occur regularly in the Canon? It's a weird form of name dropping that doesn't really serve a purpose - we're already reading a Sherlock Holmes story - we don't need to be reminded of other ones, particularly given the fact that since they are the originals they are probably better than the story we are reading!

For some reason while reading this book I had the uncanny feeling that I had read parts of it before, while parts seemed new. The afterword mentions that it was originally a novella so it's possible I read that in a collection at some point.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

I just finished Storyteller by Kate Wilhelm.

Subtitled "Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers' Workshop", Storyteller is an odd hybrid, part writing advice book, part memoir, part history. The Clarion Writer's Workshop is a famous writing workshop that focuses mainly on short stories and mostly in the science fiction and fantasy genres. A significant number of Clarion graduates have gone on to be successful published authors, including Bruce Sterling, Kim Stanley Robinson and Cory Doctorow. Wilhelm, along with her husband Damon Knight, was involved from the start of the workshop and helped shape it for many years.

The hybrid nature of the book means that there is probably a very narrow audience that will appreciate it - those who are interested in both the history of the Clarion workshop and those interested in the craft of writing.

As a voracious reader, the subject of writing often comes up, a subject I am ambivalent about. Over the years I have done a small amount of fiction writing but other than a few things I wrote back in high school, I've never been satisfied with the result. On the one hand, the idea of creating something as interesting as many of the books I have read over the years is appealing. On the other hand, I know from both personal experience and discussions with friends who are professional writers that writing is very hard work.

But even if I never do any serious writing myself, one thing I know I enjoy is reading about the craft behind art, whether it's writing or not. As such, this was an enjoyable book for me.