01 March 2011
Post 339: Three Hands for Scorpio
There aren't very many books I like that are written in an affected manner like this. It's unfortunate, because Norton has a really wonderful story, but it is inaccessible for anyone but the most devoted readers. Many of us do not have the time or patience to be devoted readers. Sci-fi and fantasy suffered from this problem pretty early in the genre. It seemed a stylistic affectation that most writers were happy to adopt, perhaps to set themselves further apart from general fiction. H.G. Wells immediately comes to mind here. It makes sense for Norton, one of the old guard sci-fi writers, to have continued writing in the style that established her dominance in the field to begin with. Just because it makes sense, doesn't mean it is a good choice.
I do understand why she chose to write in a very "courtly" style as the three sisters were writing down their encounter for the historical record by request of the queen, but it was very distracting. I had trouble keeping track of who was talking, and the formal writing wiped out a great deal of possibility for in-depth character development. I also felt it removed me from actually being in the action so much. Obviously things worked out well for the Skorpys because they were writing down their account so there was no suspense involved with that, but it also felt more like reading the diary or letters of someone I barely knew and only have a mild interest in.
So why is it that I can enjoy the epic language and prose of Tolkien, but this particular Norton novel feels so stilted and imposed? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that this is by no means an epic novel. The magic in Three Hands seems to be well established in the world, but no one knows exactly what the rules are or what can be done with it. It just seems that Norton wanted to try and give one last hurrah from her deathbed and this is what came from it.
The thing is, I don't think she needed that last hurrah. Her mark has been left by the publication of hundreds of stories as well as influencing many, many sci-fi and fantasy writers. Would I have had the drive to write one last book with all of that under my belt, even knowing that I might not be able to finish it? Probably not, but I think Norton was more giving of herself than most people in general. And even if I don't like all of her works, I do appreciate and admire her ability to create, collaborate, and inspire the stories of past, current, and future generations.
An excellent review can be found at SF Reviews.
LibsNote: Library copy.