Experimental Fiction, Part One

2 Feb

I seem to have less time than ever at the moment for writing and blogging. The day and evening jobs have taken up most of my time of late and there are bills to pay (ho hum…). Hence posts from me have been few and far between so far this year. I have, though, added a new page to the site. ’21 Experimental Novels’ is a list of such works intended to provoke discussion, perhaps, and serve as a guide to the reader who might be new to the field. It’s a subject close to my heart since I’m a fan of writers who play around with the conventions of the craft and I always incorporate elements of experimentation into my own writing. And in a series of posts to follow, I shall be sharing my thoughts on the experimental novel. In the meantime, please do take a look at the list and feel free to comment. And, if you feel so inclined, vote in the poll below.

I leave you with an extract from my war novel in which I play around with tense and genre.

The bomber won’t stop here, though.  It’ll be heading out toward the asteroid belt.  We shall no longer be able to recognise the crew.  They too will have undergone a change.  In place of flesh, they’ll possess a skin formed from a hyper-tensile alloy, displaying a leaf-coloured sheen when exposed to light.  Underneath, their internal organs, their respiratory and nervous systems will have given way to electronic circuitry, to hydraulics and electro-mechanics.  Though men may have conceived of such an enterprise they will have proved wholly unsuited to seeing it through to completion.  Their bodies would have been too weak to withstand the rigours of intergalactic travel.  In any case, the human lifespan falls pitifully short of the required time frame.  And so artificial life forms will have been created to carry out the task for them.  The armoury officer will detach the default digital unit from the end of his left arm and replace it with the laser gun attachment.  The navigational officer will plug his wrist socket into the universal mapping interface.  The functions of the second armoury officer will have become redundant.  Instead, he’ll align the three apertures at the centre of his face with the corresponding plugs in the communications interface and check for messages from Earth.  Most of the time, there’ll be little for the captain or his co-pilot to do.  The spacecraft’s computers will handle much of the work on long-haul journeys such as these.  For the next two hundred years or so they’ll remain in sleep mode.


Tradition or Innovation?

All text and images © PSR

6 Responses to “Experimental Fiction, Part One”

  1. Mari Biella February 3, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    Interesting post, Paul. I’m a strong believer that there’s a place for both traditionalism and the avant garde (often in the same novel), and speaking just as a reader I’m equally keen to read both. I hope and believe that there will always be a place for the more traditional style of writing, and for novels that, while they may not be startlingly original in stylistic terms, nevertheless can boast of strong characterisation, tight plotting and beautiful writing. On the other hand, I’ve just finished reading a genuinely innovative novel. Reading it was not such a cosy experience (partly because of the subject matter), it frequently took me out of my comfort zone, and I can’t confidently claim to have understood it. Am I glad I read it? Without a shadow of a doubt.

    I enjoyed the extract from your novel, by the way. I’m intrigued by the introduction of a sci-fi/futuristic theme into a war novel. Am I correct in thinking that the novel itself was set during World War II, or am I confusing it with something else?

  2. Paul Sutton Reeves February 3, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    Thanks for your comments, Mari.

    I don’t think I’d disagree with you, really. There is room for both if, as you say, the traditional novel is a beautifully realised artefact. It can work for an essentially conventional novel to have experimental elements to it, but probably less so the other way around. And it can sort oddly. I’m thinking, for instance, of Orwell’s ‘A Clergyman’s Daughter’, where the unconventional passages just seem out of place. It possibly depends on how naturally these aspects fit into a writer’s style.

    What was the experimental novel that you’ve been reading and what was so innovative about it?

    The extract was indeed from my WW2 novel – you haven’t confused it. It’s a rather complex beast and woven into the war narrative are other strands including the sci-fi one and also a fantasy element (it’s the old book-within-a-book trope). Integrating a number of apparently unrelated narratives into a cohesive whole was one of the great challenges in completing the manuscript.

    • Mari Biella February 3, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

      ‘The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes’ by Dan Holloway. It includes narrative shifts from 1st person singular to 1st person plural to 3rd person, separate but interwoven narratives, and a storyline that encompasses such diverse things as an unconventional scientist’s theories and a strange art gallery where the laws of physics seem to have been suspended. Very unusual (and I mean that in a good way), but a good read in my opinion.

      I’m planning to add a ‘reviews’ section to my blog shortly, and I think that I’ll post a full review there in due course. It’s not that I have such great faith in my powers as a reviewer, I just want to have somewhere (other than Goodreads) to keep track of what I’ve been reading!

      • Paul Sutton Reeves February 3, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

        The Holloway book sounds right up my street and yet another writer of whom I’d never heard. I may well have to take a look at that.

        A review section? That’s such a good idea, Mari, that I’m tempted to steal it! I’ve kept a reading diary since 1999, but only listing titles. A long time ago when I was in a reading group, I used to write down my thoughts and I had to write book reviews when I was freelancing as a music journalist. I’ve resolved, from time to time, to keep a proper reading diary but have failed to do so thus far.

  3. franny Lloyd February 3, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    Hi Paul. Surprised at the extract being so Sci Fi but interesting to read. Well writter. Anything well-written I’ll read though I’m sure that are so many books out there I’ll never get around to. Am not very interested in genres other than realism. Still people will argue that you contradict yourself if you say you like the classics and not Sci Fi because of the otherworldliness of say, the Greek myths, and a similar argument will be made out for the murder or thriller genre, that shakespeare had murders in his plays.

    I suppose readers generally will divide into the ‘literature’ vs ‘popular’ reader types and having a choice I would put myself in the ‘literature’ reader category, but one who tries to be familiar also with some popular fiction. ‘Horses for courses’ I guess. Although I once was an avid fan of Ray Bradbury I’ve mostly stayed with the known ‘greats’ and even these I have to measure out my time and be satisfied with one or two novels from each.

    So I voted for the continuance of traditional as well as contemporary and like to get familiar with the ideas of the modern critical movements. Faucault is good but not difficult like many of them. I’m reading some Helene Cixous at the moment; her writing is really fascinating but not fiction, ‘rootprints’. I like realism for the reason it became immensely popular when it began under Richardson – who is a Derby man by the way! I’m not sure if it has had its day though as modern fiction is going in all directions and genre mixes, as in your novel, is one of the prime markers of our Postmodernist age.

    I find Zola a superb realist. I’m reading The Masterpiece at the moment having been very satisfied with his L’Aassommoir, and it’s very intoxicating; his range seems to be wide. His technique was to use observation of people, types, in a researcher’s way so his novels are sociological documents of their time.

    Good luck with the novel, nice idea the way you have it veering off from WW2 into the future, spectacular…make a good movie!

  4. Paul Sutton Reeves February 3, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

    Thank you for your comments, Franny.

    My last manuscript isn’t a sci-fi novel at all, but with a purposeful sense of playfulness, it has a few short sections in that genre. There are also parts that allude to Greek myth, and I agree with the view that there’s some connection there with speculative fiction. As I was writing the manuscript, I had in mind the possibility of its being filmed, and I think that it has a cinematic quality at times. The anagrammatic blurb that I’ve written for it alludes to this. There’s the small matter of getting the book published first, though!

    Like you, I’m not one for genre fiction, in general. I very occasionally read popular fiction – I find it instructive! – but I feel that TV fulfils the same purpose, if that’s what one wants. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was a sci-fi reader in my teens and I enjoyed Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’ and ‘The Illustrated Man’. My grandmother’s reading and viewing habits were very much genre-led and she never rated a book or film unless it contained a ‘good murder’!

    I don’t know Cixous, but I do know that the French literary scene is a lot less stultified than the ‘official’ scene here in England. Another name to check out, but as you note, there’s so little time to explore all that’s out there…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: