Friday, July 18, 2014

Silverlock syndrome and "The Fault In Our Stars"

So, yesterday I read the copy of The Fault In Our Stars that's been floating around the house ever since V finished it.


How to describe my thoughts... oh, hey, I know. Silverlock syndrome.

Back in the mid-to-late-'80s, I picked up a paperback reprint of a book called Silverlock, written by one John Myers Myers (apparently a man so nice they named him twice). Silverlock, originally published in 1949, is the story of a wholly apathetic jerk named A. Clarence Shandon who is shipwrecked and washes up on the shores of the Commonwealth, a place where characters from literature live and breathe and conduct their various adventures. But it took me a while to get to that point, because the paperback copy of Silverlock I picked up had something on the order of 15 PAGES of rave reviews, including forewords by the likes of such science fiction greats as Poul Anderson, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, before I even hit Chapter 1. And everyone who had read Silverlock seemed to agree, repeatedly and with gusto, that I was in for a treat. Phrases like "Lucky you" and "You'll get drunk on Silverlock" primed me to absolutely love this book.

I've never finished Silverlock. I just couldn't make myself continue. After all the raves that had been heaped upon it, the actual book was just... so-so. I kept expecting to fall in love with it, with one of its characters or the setting of the Commonwealth, but as I pressed on A. Clarence Shandon and his friends from all corners of classic fantasy literature just kept failing to wow me, and eventually I left off in the middle of a chapter and never returned to the book. The genre into which Silverlock best fits had no proper name when the book was first published, but it's now called fanfiction, and I've seen better writing and better treatment of similar concepts in dozens of fan-created stories.

Had I come across Silverlock on my own, without any glowing introductions by famous authors or squeeing fanboy praise by various book reviewers, I might have been able to enjoy it on its own merits. But I couldn't. And having browsed an online excerpt from the book just before I wrote this (on the off chance that my literary tastes have changed dramatically since age 16), I stand by my original observation: the idea is far better as a concept than in its execution, and in any case it would be a rare book indeed that could actually support the reams of praise that have been heaped upon this one. Silverlock syndrome describes any book whose reputation exceeds it.

And that's about where I stand with The Fault In Our Stars. To be fair to John Green, it's more compelling writing than Silverlock, because I actually finished the book. The teen characters are sometimes overly pretentious, sometimes wildly precocious, with a quality I usually attribute to Joss Whedon's writing (in other words, the dialogue isn't realistic, but it's charming enough that you wish people really would talk that way). The subject matter is difficult -- being young, witty and terminally cancerous usually isn't a festival of fun -- and there are places where the plot strains credibility. I know, I'm expecting a lot from a YA novel. Then again, I expected so much largely because the book has been drastically overhyped. Critics and fans have swooned and babbled over it. The dust jacket of this copy is plastered with praises. Everywhere I go online I seem to get an eyeful of teen girls tweeting things like "just finished TFIOS OMG AUGUSTUSSSSS!!!!1!1!!!! WHAT IS LIFE I CAN'T EVEN", etc., so Mr. Green has definitely reached his target demographic.

It never once made me cry. To borrow a bit from the book itself: "It all felt Romantic, but not romantic." And it's not because I have a heart of stone. I get weepy over patriotic songs, for heaven's sake. I bawled like an infant near the end of The Book Thief. I had a relative who lost a leg to cancer. But this book, which has turned other readers into soggy wet messes, did not reach me where I live. I don't know. Maybe enough characters were spending so much of the latter half of this book crying already that I didn't feel much need to join them.

Have you read The Fault In Our Stars? Agree that it's been overhyped? Think I'm smoking crack? Let me know.

No comments: