Friday, October 19, 2007

In which I want to destroy humanity with fiery vengeance...

In which I want to Destroy Humanity with Fiery Vengeance...

You know, I don't put my Book Snob Pants on much here lately, but I would like to comment briefly on this little list I found on Fark. In it, Random House put a poll up to its readers to name the top 100 novels ever written. (I think that's the criteria, anyway)

I'm not going to take much offense to much on the list. If there's anything I've learned by watching modern pop culture and working retail on a daily basis, it's that there's no accounting for taste.

"To Each His Own!" I always laugh, before drinking myself into a sobbing slumber.

But there's one little thing on the list that really edged the needle toward "wants to destroy the Earth."

Okay. I point toward the top 10.

Ayn Rand? Generally, I tend to throw the words "overrated hack pseudo-philospher" around when I hear those word, but truth be told, I think Atlas Shrugged and the Fountainhead are actually interesting novels. Nothing to build a pragmatic life's philosophy around, mind you, but they are at the very least well written.

Jumping around? Can't argue at all with 1984. Helluva book that becomes more and more important as time passes.

To Kill a Mockingbird? It's a favorite of mine. One of the very few pieces of assigned reading I ever truly enjoyed at the time of assignment. I have since gone back and re-read books I hated, hated, hated! when they were assigned, and enjoyed them immensely, but To Kill a Mockingbird I read in the space of one night my junior year in high school (mostly out of necessity, since we were having a test the next day). How can you tell I enjoyed it? Read the whole thing again the next day.

Others in and around the top 10...Ulysses whipped my ass. Twice. I'll beat it one day.

Catch-22 is another personal favorite.

And you know, Robert Heinlein doesn't belong in the top 20, but I can't think of anything of his I read that I didn't enjoy. I probably ought to go find some Heinlein right now, because there's a lot of what I'm picking up to read that I'm not caring for, here lately.

But, I've wandered off track.

By now, if you've looked at the list, you'll see that of the authors listed in the top 15 or so books, I've omitted one name from comment at this point.

I'm not going to comment on the cult based on his works. There are many much more well suited to that sort of thing in this neck of the woods.

Nor will I comment on the horrible and horrific shithole probably-the-worst-movie-I've-ever-seen flick that seems to want to keep popping up, here lately.

I just have one question to ask:

Has anybody actually tried to read L. Ron Hubbard's novels?

Far be it from me to damn something as dumb on a site I call "Big Stupid Tommy," but I think what bugs me more than anything about the ubiquitous nature of L. Ron Hubbard is the fact that he may be, when presented a ratio of talent vs. the quantity of works and their influence, L. Ron Hubbard may just be the biggest, most paradoxical waste of literary time ever.


Hey. If you enjoy the thing, fine. Have at it. Like I said, there's no accounting for taste--the fact that my store sells so much Natural Light Beer and Hot Pockets is testament to that fact. Hell, I've probably used a whole year of my 30 years of life watching men pretend to fight in a wrestling ring. But at the same time, there's a sense of perspective--I realize that Ricky Steamboat beating Ric Flair at Clash of Champions VI isn't a work of highest art.

As such, anybody who wants to present to you "Battlefield: Earth" as the pre-eminent work of American Fiction in the 20th century should be dragged by the hair to the nearest Community College to get a basic lesson in The Novel as Literature. Then, they should be castrated with a pair of rusty garden shears, and not before discussion can move toward why the Mission Earth series is the greatest series ever....

Just looking at the work: If you're going to have the same two-dimensional, never varying from archetype characters in every 1000 page tome, could you at least give it a story that's even halfway interesting?

Or, if you're not going to vary from the subject-verb-object sentence structure even once in the space of 1194 pages, could you at least inhabit the story with an interesting character, at all?

If we were going to build a shitty writer to build a cult around, couldn't we have picked somebody who wasn't completely crazy for adverbs, or who had moved past the 1940's stereotypes about women and science?

Now, like I said, since the list was left to the public, you're gonna find stuff that really probably won't stand the test of time, and are simply there because they've found a niche for the time being (I'm looking at you Charles de Lint and Laurell K. Hamilton...)

And, as great as I think both The Stand and It are, I don't really think of either of them as great works of literature (though if you were to pick two of Mr. King's best, those are the two, and easily....)

So, popular culture isn't the best gauge of literature.

But if popular culture is throwing dreck like L. Ron Hubbard in the top ten of all time (not once, But Three Motherhumping Times!), then there's something seriously awry with humanity's literary barometer, and I'm thinking a Comic Book style or James Bond style villain wiping a few million people off the planet might not necessarily be a bad thing.

But that villain needs to be believable, for humanity to be able to understand why a villain who is not so different from us is better than anything you might find in an L. Ron Hubbard novel.


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