Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Always Counting

I'm reading Jon Courtenay Grimwood's 9tail Fox, and trying to piece things together -- some things fit together very nicely, and others...don't. Page references are to the US (Night Shade) edition:

First: when was that?
"9tail Fox takes place a few years in the future and is based on a past where San Francisco's Chinatown was cut out of Central in the mid-1990s and turned into an autonomous subdistrict of the SFPD."
- Acknowledgements, p. vii
"In April 1991, the small sliver of central San Francisco bounded by Geary, Market and Larkin Streets got its own SFPD task force. ... Ten years later, a purpose-built SFPD building opened at 301 Eddy Street, the new Tenderloin Station.

"About five years after that, a similar decision to cut Chinatown out of Central and turn the area into its own SFPD district created such outrage from those within the local community that the whole plan was put on hold, indefinitely. Civic pride, however, needed saving and City Hall's compromise saw Chinatown merged with the Financial District and given quasi-autonomy as an SFPD sub-district within Central, which was, itself, one of five stations within Metro."
- Chapter 3, p.9

To review, 1991 + 10 + 5 equals "the mid-1990s." Sure, it does.

Second: what time is it?

" eighty-seven-year-old doctor...Misha Persikov...."
- Chapter 1, p.2

Chapter 7 header: "Stalingrad -- Winter, 1942"

"Anyway, Misha was on official business. He might only be thirteen...."
- Chapter 7, p.25

Someone aged 13 in 1942 would be 87 in the year 2016. (Admittedly, the book has not yet explicitly said that the "Misha" of Chapter 7 is Misha Persikov. So this may be a quibble.)

The book opens on Friday, February 6th (year unspecified). 2009 has such a date, as does 2015. Perhaps Misha's birthday is in late January, or the "Winter" in Chapter 7 is at the end of the year. From this evidence, 9tail Fox is set in 2015.

" 1978 when Robert Vanberg was admitted...."
- Chapter 8, p.30

"...that had lasted six presidents, thirty years and a couple of major wars..."
- Chapter 10, p.39

I stumbled on that "thirty" at first, and thought it was an error -- but it looks now like just an understatement. As to the six presidents: Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and thus whoever wins in 2008 gets a second term in 9tail Fox. (I doubt that will be important.)

Third: disconnected thoughts

9tail Fox was published in 2005, but, so far, it doesn't really feel like it's set ten years in the future.

Grimwood thinks the National Enquirer is the Weekly World News; the Enquirer has stories about celebrities and it's the WWN that has (had, now) stories about aliens and the resurrected Elvis. (p.16)

He thinks that an American would say "Should I have done?" (p.45)

And a lot of things seem slightly off in ways I can't quite articulate -- I'll hope that these are deliberate, and forge on.


Anonymous said...

That last is something that's always bothered me about Grimwood's writing. He has American characters forever spouting things that just aren't part of the American English vernacular. That said, I mostly get called a pedant for pointing this out. Someone has also suggested that Grimwood is primarily writing for his UK audience, and this isn't too concerned about getting the dialog right for Americans, preferring to write dialog that reads right for people in the UK.

Anonymous said...

I think the unfortunate fact is that Grimwood is often quite sloppy. I actually love reading his books and admire him a lot, but nevertheless, from grammar (in particular his overuse of sentence fragments) to facts, it often doesn't hang together.

For instance, in his alternate futures, where something as major as the Napoleonic wars or WWII ended radically differently, he still keeps familiar brand-names like Nokia and Starbucks. It makes no sense, and after a few books I gave up waiting for a reasonable explanation. There ain't one.

Either we accept that and enjoy the narratives, or we don't.

Anonymous said...

For instance, in his alternate futures, where something as major as the Napoleonic wars or WWII ended radically differently, he still keeps familiar brand-names like Nokia and Starbucks. It makes no sense [...]

In his early books, didn't he have the Second French Empire and the Nazis kicking around? The pain, the pain.

Anonymous said...

i read two of his for the club, and it's a constant struggle wondering "should i stop and figure this out"..."should i move ahead to see it explained" (which never really worked)..."i will forget about this after the next cool action scene".
Re: the mid-90s thing...if 'five years after that' refers to 1991, and the 10 years is a distracting sidenote, we come to 1996...

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