Tag Archives: fiction

Thoughts on Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher fits snugly into the dystopian trend in young adult fiction. It tells the story of two people in different worlds. There’s Finn, an inmate in a futuristic prison with the same name as the book. He has no memory of his childhood, and is convinced that he did what no one else in the vast prison has done… seen outside. Then there is Claudia, daughter of the warden of Incarceron, who lives in a highly refined and aristocratic world, one where technology is artificially held back through Protocol.

The book starts with a bang, with Finn about to be run over, and doesn’t let up much through the end. Fisher has mastered the art of throwing rocks at her characters, though it’s often–perhaps as a result of so many hurled rocks–the secondary characters who feel more deftly drawn, if not outright likeable. Attia, a slave girl, was my favorite. She was unquestionably devoted to her master, yet also more than capable of taking care of herself. Lord Evian, a tireless sycophant with a secret, came a close second.

The settings of the book are wonderfully evocative, and change rapidly. Finn moves through the prison world, making his way out from the belly of the beast. Often it feels like the stage sets are the real stars of the book, and the main characters just show up to move the furniture around. Yes, this book fired on all cylinders, but it ultimately never captured me the way I hoped it would.

I did come to Incarceron with high expectations. It was the most recommended young adult fantasy at the SCBWI Weekend on the Water writer’s retreat last November. I heard more than one rave over it. And yes, the book is the work of a master wordsmith and highly skilled storyteller. But it all felt a bit like watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster. The sets were fantastic. The lighting and atmosphere spot on. The actors immensely talented. But the sum of it all somehow lacking.

There were so many opportunities where Incarceron could have offered much more than action, but it never seems to have taken aim for the profound. The story surged from one instance of mortal peril or jaw-dropping scenery to the next, never asking anything too serious of the reader. So that in the end, I wasn’t quite sure what Incarceron is about, and feel that in spite of the fine skill that Fisher displays, I’ll soon forget all about this prison and its inmates.

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How to Live on 24 Hours a Day

Arnold Bennett, British Novelist

While reading the remarkable series on changes in publishing by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, I came across her mention of Making the List: A Cultural History of the American Bestseller 1900-1999 by Michael Korda. This book deserves a whole post, but for now I’ll let the title speak for it.

This post is about one–just one of what I suspect will be many–gem that I discovered through this book of lists. In 1912, the eighth nonfiction bestseller had a fantastic title: How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett. He was one of many bestselling fiction writers that the book spotlights, though like Fannie Hurst has since fallen into relative obscurity. In addition to fiction, he made a splash with some of the first self help books. This one has just 69 short pages, and is well worth the time.

And according to the book, that is indeed saying something:

Yet it has been said that time is money. That proverb understates the case. Time is a great deal more than money — usually. But though you have the wealth of a cloak-room attendant at the Carlton Hotel, you cannot buy yourself a minute more time than I have, or the cat by the fire has.

Who knew cloak-room attendants were so well paid in 1912? Bennett may be out of time, he died in 1931, but he seems to have made good use of the years he was allotted, at least judging by his prodigious output. One of the things this little book drives home is that we’re far from the first generation to feel that life moves a bit too fast, or that things don’t make quite the same sense they did before. This guy had the industrial revolution, then a world war, then a big old depression to contend with during his lifetime. If he had been granted more time, he would have seen… well, another world war.

Our lives are insanely simple compared to all that, and yes 24 hours a day is plenty. I loved this passage:

The supply of time is truly a daily miracle, an affair genuinely astonishing when one examines it. You wake up in the morning, and lo! your purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours of the unmanufactured tissue of the universe of your life! It is yours. It is the most precious of possessions. A highly secular commodity, showered upon you in a manner as singular as the commodity itself!

For remark! No one can take it from you. It is unstealable. And no one receives either more or less than you receive.

Talk about an ideal democracy! In the realm of time there is no aristocracy of wealth, and no aristocracy of intellect. Genius is never rewarded by even an extra hour a day. And there is no punishment. Waste your infinitely precious commodity as much as you will, and the supply will never be withheld from you. No mysterious power will say: — “This man is a fool, if not a knave. He does not deserve time; he shall be cut off at the meter.” It is more certain than consols, and payment of income is not affected by Sundays. Moreover, you cannot draw on the future. Impossible to get into debt! You can only waste the passing moment. You cannot waste to-morrow; it is kept for you. You cannot waste the next hour; it is kept for you.

The book is now public domain and can be found for free on Google eBookstore and for the Amazon Kindle.

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