Saturday, March 06, 2010

Stranger in a Strange Land: 3/5

Today, I finished Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.*  The book has two versions, between which I alternated.  The 1961 publication ran for 160,067 words and won the Hugo Award.  In 1991, the Widow Heinlein published an expanded, original version, which weighed in at 220,000 words.

*I also discovered a new and interesting website.

Since learning to read circa 1988, I have read over 230 books, including 11 in 2010; seen at least 350 movies, including 19 in 2010; read a bazillion cases and statutes; and heard probably over 1,000 sermons and lectures.  Perhaps hypocritically, I appreciate brevity.  I believe that books longer than 500 pages and movies longer than 2 hours should have a blankity blank good reason for the surplus.*  There comes a point where thoroughness gives way to self-indulgence.  I simply don't have patience for that.

*Interesting note: Shakespeare never wrote anything longer than 5 acts.  I'm just sayin.

And I'm afraid that self-indulgence marred an otherwise good story here.  I began in the 1991 version but ran out of steam about three-fourths of the way through.  I got tired of reading extended "conversations" between characters that served little more than to either (a) set the table for something coming or (b) give the author a soapbox.  So I switched over to the 1961 version and still waded through the last 50 or 60 pages.  By "waded," I don't mean to say that those pages were boring or uninteresting; I mean to say that they began as interesting and just went on a little too far.  Even the very last page went one sentence too far.

UPDATE: Just ran across Niven's 4th Law for Writers: "It is a sin to waste the reader's time."


Erik said...

I read Stranger In A Strange Land a couple months ago and had similar feelings. It was difficult to finish and very strange.

I'm glad someone else feels the same way I did.


Micah said...

I'm going to assume that you've read The Once and Future King, which I just finished. This brings up the question: what is your opinion of compilations of short works? The Once and Future King is a compilation of four very distinct books, but total at over 630 pages, even in tiny type. Is this a waste of time?

Jeremy Masten said...

I'm afraid I have to disappoint you: I have not read The Once and Future King, though I have seen the cartoon The Sword in the Stone.

So. First: If you enjoyed it, it wasn't a waste of time. I read Les Miserables last summer. 1488 pages. But 1488 pages worth reading. (OK, maybe only about 900 pages worth reading.) Most of that surplus had a blankity-blank good reason, so I give it the OK.

As for compilations: I treat each part as a separate piece. I consider the Complete Sherlock Holmes to be 60 or so stories. The stories are about 10-20 pages, and the novels are about 200 pages. No problema conmigo.

It's sorta like a TV series. I would never ever ever sit down and watch a 60-hour movie, but I just might sit through a marathon of The Wire or Lost.