Friday, 24 January 2014

'Tangerine Dream' and 'Sanctus'

The soundtrack of my week has been lashings of Tangerine Dream, a band I’ve never listened to before. But it turns out they’ve been going for as long as I’ve been alive, have recorded about 190 albums, and produce the kind of mesmeric, endless, spooky, electronic noodling that’s been missing from my life. Their music is just the kind of thing I need for reading and for writing to. It’s almost like having white noise playing, in order to drown out the everyday noise around me. Except it’s not white noise – it’s fuschia noise with silver stars and golden moons and gigantic clockwork bunnies doing cartwheels across the horizon.

Also, their music at certain points in their history sounds very much like the strange and expansive score from a lavish Dr who movie from the early 1980s. It’s like Roger Limb and the Radiophonic Workshop writ large.

I realized that electronic music is something that Dr Who should never have left behind. All that lush orchestral stuff they’ve had since 2005 can be sweet sometimes – and it was a novelty when it first came in, BUT, now Dr Who sounds just like any other show. It’s generic incidentally music. Dr Who was electronic-sounding and spookily brutalist. It looked and sounded like nothing else on TV. Now that’s not the case, and I think that’s a shame.

Speaking of generic things… I’ve had my first reading disappointment of the year. It had to happen, didn’t it? I took a chance and picked up ‘Sanctus’ by Simon Toyne. I thought it was about time that I read one of those huge thrillerish tomes about monks killing each other and long-hidden secrets coming to light and lots of international travel, action, adventure, guns, car chases, clues, computers etc etc. I thought it would all be a bit like ‘The Omen’ crossed with ‘Indiana Jones.’

I was amazed to find it was an almost entirely static adventure novel! People jump off mountains and parachute into them, and chase each other and shoot each other, but it all feels like a bit of a faff on, really. And the thing that makes it seem like that is that the characters aren’t alive enough. They are superheroes. Even the supposedly ordinary journalist / (spoilers)… Siamese twin character at the heart of the story. She’s pretty much a cipher who quickly becomes a superhero, dashing about, doing superhuman things and taking in her stride the plainly impossible things that start to happen around her.

Is this a feature of the global conspiracy / action adventure / biblical mystery genre thing? Characters as broadly and brightly drawn as characters are in a computer game?

At least I found out that it wasn’t the kind of thing for me – but not because of the violence or the technology, but the anaemic characterization.

Since then, though, I’ve picked up John Green’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, in which the characters are so real and beautifully drawn it’s like you’re sitting next to them, right from page one, and can’t leave their side until the book ends. I’m halfway through and don’t want it to finish. It feels rare and unique, which is all I want when I pick up a book.

So I’m left thinking – this Friday – why are there so many novels out there setting out on purpose to be just the same as a whole lot of other books? And do they really set out to have recognizable types of characters for the reader to plug into as an easy viewpoint place-holder? I mean, what’s the point of that..? I’m not being snobby, I hope. I’m guessing that books like ‘Sanctus’ have loyal and loving fans – who don’t set as much store in the kinds of fictional qualities I prefer.

Are they reading more like watching an action movie, or playing a game on a screen? This is what I’m trying to understand, I think. It really feels like someone has scarified ‘Sanctus’ like one of its victim-monks and bled it completely dry – leaving behind only the ossified husk of a screen treatment… Is that what it’s all about? Writing a story that’s all ready to transcend to the next lucrative level? There’s obviously money behind it all, and the arcane secrets of selling to a mass audience… but it’s a shame that such empty books are produced as a result and their – at times, inspired – ideas get squandered in their haste to fit squarely inside a marketable slot.

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