A while back, I got into the mood to read all of Chuck Palahniuk’s novels. I read a few and listened to a few on audiobook, but I finished his entire library in a few months. And I loved them all, with Survivor, Rant, and Fight Club topping the list in that order. After this, I heard he was writing Snuff, and it would be out shortly thereafter. It sounded interesting, and I picked it up. It was mediocre at best. It was missing that certain feel that the rest of Palahniuk’s novels possessed. The story seemed like he wanted to make a list of funny adult movie titles; the narrative was simply lacking in substance. And then I heard about Pygmy, and I expected some of that Palahniuk magic to come through. I thought Snuff was a fluke. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
I’ll be honest, I did not make it all the way through Pygmy, and so I am not going to write any kind of review. I’m not qualified. This is merely going to be a brief commentary of why the novel let me down. I can take a lot of narrative styles, and I’m open to different kinds of storytelling techniques, but Palahniuk’s purposeful breaking of English in Pygmy was intolerable. The story is written in broken English (and in first person, to boot) that barely even passes for pidgin. It’s purposeful, and his style is consistent enough to make reading eventually come easier. Readers can tell that he is not simply throwing words together, but when I am looking for a novel that has the signature Palahniuk voice and tone, I don’t want what Pygmy offers. I appreciate his attempt at experimenting with narrative voice, but at the end of the day, it was so experimental that it just wasn’t interesting. I don’t mind authors trying new things, nor do I see a fan’s place to attempt to influence their art. I do, however, know what I like as a reader, and I read certain authors for certain things. I read Palahniuk for the particular voice and tone that he writes so well; Pygmy simply did not deliver that. I just hope that his next novel does.
In my disappointment with Pygmy, I started thinking about books I like and why I like them. Along this train of thought, I thought about those books I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t. Immediately, my mind went to Star Wars. Once upon a time, it was hard to find me without a Star Wars novel in my hand. I read dozens of them, both series and standalones by the time the New Jedi Order (NJO) came out. I was amazed at the scope NJO offered: 19 books. It was truly epic. It was a great way to revitalize the Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU). Unfortunately, after the first half-dozen novels, the series was losing cohesion and my interest. I am currently on book 17, and I can’t seem to make myself finish the series, especially since I know the details on the ending as well as how awesome the series after NJO (Legacy of the Force) is supposed to be. One way or another, I plan on making this my summer to get caught up on Star Wars in a way I haven’t been since high school.
On my way to deciding which Star Wars series to read, I figure that I would read the Timothy Zahn novel Outbound Flight. It’s a prequel to the Thrawn trilogy, and is a stand-alone as far as series go. It was Zahn’s Thrawn novels that got me into reading Star Wars books in the first place, so I figured that it would be the best way to ease my way back in. I think I was right. So far, the novel is exactly what I have been hoping for. It’s fun, and it is actually very well written for a franchise science-fiction novel. Normally, science-fiction/fantasy written under a franchise label is lower-quality than non-franchise fiction because those novels written for such a label are mass produced to make as much money from as many fans as possible. This can be said of some of the NJO books, but for the most part, Star Wars novels have a decently high quality, with Timothy Zahn at the very top of that list. I think a lot of that has to do with him primarily being an established author in his own right, and being a Star Wars novel is secondary. He has published more novels outside of the Star Wars EU than within, and I think that gives him more credibility than those authors who only publish for mass franchise audiences. I know that sounds snobbish and pretentious, which is admittedly ridiculous when you think that I am talking about Star Wars novels, but there is something to be said about an author who can publish works outside of well-known franchises. It can be assumed that an author who can create a unique bibliography will have more skill as a writer than those who are never allowed such a freedom or those who cannot stand the rigors of personal publication. I will probably do a review of Outbound Flight (despite its being published years ago) that articulates more clearly my preference for established sci-fi authors to write franchise fiction. Suffice it to say that I am looking very forward to my reading list this summer.