Thursday, September 24, 2009

Abandoned Books: The Sheriff of Yrnameer by Michael Rubens

This is not a review; I only read the first 79 pages of The Sheriff of Yrnameer, and I can't speak at all to the remaining 190 pages. It may become the greatest novel in the history of the universe in that space, for all I know. But I didn't expect it would, so I put it down quietly, and I don't expect to pick it back up again. We all make our choices in life.

Sheriff of Yrnameer is the first novel by a TV writer/producer, and I have to admit that I assumed it would be lousy as soon as I saw that. It's petty and reductive of me, and I regret it, but it's true. It's supposedly satirical as well -- Yrnameer is a corruption of "Your Name Here," and the planet of that name is the fabled Last Unbranded Outpost of Freedom in a Corporately Controlled Galaxy.

I was hoping that Rubens would show some small sign that he'd ever read Fredric Brown, or Bob Sheckley, or Fred Pohl -- any of the mid-'50s Galaxy stable, to which Yrnameer owes everything -- or even Douglas Adams. (I was beyond hoping for a reference to John Sladek; that would have been too much hope.) I didn't get any of the first 79 pages, of course.

The pages I read of Yrnameer are set in that terribly familiar circa-1960 default future Milky Way -- full of planets that it's easy to get to, and alien races that are physically bizarre but psychologically just like the carpenters of Levittown. Ron Goulart did versions of that setting -- but he did them funnier than this, he did them three times a year or so, and he did them in paperback about forty years ago.

I have the terrible feeling that Yrnameer is supposed to be funny, as well. Now, humor is famously relative, so you shouldn't necessarily take my word for it, isn't funny. Not a bit. (Well, not at all in those 79 pages. Perhaps the other 190 are sparkling with Coward-ian wit.)

I could go on, but why? Yrnameer has taken the most basic and degraded furniture of SF from fifty years ago and found new bland things to do with it. That's an achievement of a sort, I suppose.

When books like this get published I shudder for humanity. Or at least the part of humanity that toils in publishing companies, as I do. If you want to read a SF novel this year, please at least read one by someone whose read a SF novel from the last four decades? Please?


Anonymous said...

I picked this one up because Stephen Colbert blurbed it. And I did finish it. Yrnameer is generic and forgettable, but I've read worse. I got a couple of laughs, but it's ended up in the dump pile (not the "share with others" stack). I prefer a little more effort in SF, even those that are just supposed to be cute.

leonsp said...

I had to choose between two comic fantasy the other day -- this and In The Company of Ogres. The latter had better prose on the first few ages. Unfortunately, the latter turned out to be rather more right-wing than I am comfortable with, bashing faint allegories of feminists and political correctness. Didn't finish it either. Bah.

Given that I don't like Holt or Rankin and that Fforde seems like crap, the only comic fantasy authors I tolerate enough to like are Pratchett, Gentle (Grunts!), and Kage Baker.

Perhaps the future will bless us with better comic fantasy authors

Jon said...

The cover is fantastic! A pity the book doesn't live up to its promise.

Chuck said...

This isn't a review of your non-review. I only read the first 79 words of "Abandoned Books: The Sherrif &c." It may be the greatest non-review in the history of non-reviews, but given the extraordinary dimness of that genre, I can't imagine the potential upside to warrant the 2 or 3 calories I'd expend reading the rest.

Next up, reviews of a piano ("I tried the bottom 3 notes but found them very rumbly so I stopped") or South America ("Tierra Del Fuego is a cold, disagreeable place -- it was unnecessary to proceed northward").

Fine work.

I read the book, by the way. It's an extremely funny book, one that frequently had me laughing out loud. To give you benefit of the doubt, perhaps in your opinion the funniest writers who ever lived were Bruce Sterling, Alastair Reynolds, and Vernor Vinge. Rubens, I'd say, is quite a bit funnier. Why the book was classed in a genre where humorless old grannies like you would fix their dentures on it is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

Subtract your age from 100 and read that many pages before giving up on a book. Older people have less time to waste ;-]

Andrew Wheeler said...

Chuck: Fair enough; tastes in humor are idiosyncratic, and I'm glad to hear you liked this book. (People should like the books they read, or else what's the point?)

But there is a long history of humorous SF -- I mentioned many of the writers in that area in my post -- and Rubens' book comes from a very old, and played-out, vein of that area. I didn't see any sign that he had any knowledge that it was an old and played-out area; if you're as unread in SF as he is, that may perhaps explain why you enjoyed it so much.

I tend to think that readers will find Yrnameer interesting and original in a precise ratio to their knowledge of other SF; those who like it best will be those who are astonished to know that there were actually earlier stories about spaceships and aliens.

Chuck said...

It's inspiring to hear a tone of certainty usually reserved for arguments that hold water applied to jolly little sieves like yours. Going back to analogies, it's like you're saying that Jessica Stockholder's installation art is useless because Kurt Schwitters built his Merzbau in 1933, or that John Corigliano's music lacks interest because Charles Ives wrote "Three Places In New England" in 1914.

As a further example, I enjoyed loganberry pies in 1975 and i still enjoy them now, which is very odd since that whole genre should be played out. You would think that my enjoyment of loganberry pie would be delicious in precise ratio to my lack of familiarity with loganberry pie.

Probably you enjoy a laugh now and then, and anyone who reads what pass for your reviews right now probably enjoys a laugh too. But mostly I think you misunderstand "The Sheriff &c." You're looking at a loganberry pie and presuming that its intent was to be a muon collider. I think it's unfortunate that the publishers determined to market the book in the muon-collider section of the bookstore, rather than among the delicious pies, where the people more likely to understand it would find it, and the people riding around the bookstore on skrodes would pass it by. I'm at some pains to comprehend why people, the current critic for instance, feel obligated to subject purely enjoyable things to criteria of analysis with no applicability at all.

I think it's reasonably transparent that the intent of this book was to tell a funny story making use of a setting -- planets, aliens, etc. -- that offered the maximum freedom for invention and satire. And it succeeds wonderfully in that area -- it's like a continuous rapidfire pingpong match of cruel, funny machinery. On the other hand, your non-review seems to look upon the book as if its comic plot and mis-en-scene contrivances amounted to a brusque invasion of the sacred ground of science fiction by some bumptious parvenu totally unlettered in Comicon, lacking all standing to offer you an enjoyable read.

C'est la vie, I guess.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Chuck: Your metaphor is severely flawed; what Rubens has done in Yrnameer is -- to modify your analogy to something closer to the actual case -- to hang a urinal on the wall and call for the assembled multitudes to bask in his amazing originality.

This is a deeply old-fashioned book, full of things that were considered outdated and trite before Rubens and I (and possibly you) were born. SF humor does tend to rely on the tried-and-true, yes, but Yrnameer is impressively backward-looking even in that context.

Since I suspect you, like Rubens, come from the TV-comedy mines -- I actually suspect you come from just a few doors down the hall in the very same mine, to be more precise -- perhaps I can put this in terms you'll understand. If you try to set up a joke with "Take my wife, please," thinking that you've invented that phrase, the audience will realize and start to laugh at you for the wrong reason. Yrnameer is a sequence of jokes that other people told much better long ago -- many of them quite famous jokes -- and there's no sign that Rubens knows this.

On the other hand, I am glad to see that Rubens has at least one true friend willing to defend him to the end on the Internet. You can tell him that there's no shame in writing a mediocre book, and that he will certainly get better with time and effort -- particularly if he learns a bit more about the form in which he's writing. (And that's the case whether he considers that form to be "funny science fiction" or "the comic novel" or even "contemporary satire.")

Chuck said...

For the record, I'm not a writer, nor do I work in tv. I think I understand your central point: that Rubens is "hanging a urinal on the wall and calling for the assembled multitudes to bask in his amazing originality." In other words, metaphorically speaking he's presenting himself as a radical innovator, a Marcel Duchamp, while ignorant of the earlier artist's entry in the Armory Show of 1917.

I wonder if we might take it down a notch. I truly don't glean that that was Rubens's ambition. Maybe it was, but I can't see where you're getting that idea, honestly, and in consideration of the lack of evidence I think it speaks for itself, crazywise. Can we leave no room for other approaches to writing a book? Should Bridget Riley have taken one look at "Nude Descending a Staircase" and thrown away her paintbrush, or was she, despite being aware of Duchamp, still somehow entitled to work out of her own personal point of view on a completely different playing field and making good work? I'd say so. Sorry, Marcel.

But hey, this is your blog and you're entitled to rule the roost. If in your view this is the way to approach a book and this is the alienated view you have of authors, by all means have at it. And thanks for the favor of not deleting my posts, I appreciate it. Onward and upward, globally.

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