Monday, 3 April 2017

Climaxes And Escapes

There is a convention in action-adventure fiction: at the climax of a narrative, the hero is held at gun-point and is about to be killed but of course escapes. There are two ways that this can happen:

hero outwits and overcomes villain (classic example: James Bond and Donovan Grant in From Russia, With Love; Larry Niven has an ingenious variation in a Gil Hamilton story);

hero is rescued by friend (Lisbeth Salander rescues Mikael Blomkvist in Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).

I mention this here because I do not think this climax occurs in Poul Anderson's works? Anderson does present many situations when, mid-narrative, our hero, held captive, grabs a guard's sword or gun, knocks over the guard and runs. Manse Everard, being arrested, thinks:

"He who hesitates is bossed."
-Poul Anderson, The Shield Of Time (New York, 1991), Part Two, 109 B.C., p. 59 -

- and immediately goes on the offensive.

Many years ago, I was sitting in a work staff room with a copy of Anderson's The Corridors Of Time on the table in front of me. A colleague, whose personality was extremely irritating, walked in, picked up the book, opened it at random, read aloud in a sarcastic tone of voice a passage in which Malcolm Lockridge stages a standard Andersonian escape from armed enemies, put the book back down and walked away, clearly with no thought of the consequences of his action. Then another colleague expressed surprise that I was reading such a text.

Just think about that. Consider the wealth, depth, and ingenuity of The Corridors Of Time, then consider the false impression of the book generated by reading aloud that single passage in isolation. The mind boggles.


David Birr said...

An anecdote told by Leonard Nimoy about the early days of filming *Star Trek* was that the production crew tried to stress to reporters that the show was intended to be a bit more cerebral than simple action-adventure in outer space. Unfortunately, one scene the reporters walked in on was of Spock in sickbay, bleeding green blood, and reporting to Kirk, "Captain, the monster attacked me!" Of course this scene, taken in isolation, gave just the impression they'd been trying to avoid...

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Irritating tho the first colleague was, it was the second colleague's comment which caught my attention. It seems plain he "bought in" to the notion that literature with action/adventure in the plot was cheap, trashy, low brow, unintelligent, poorly written, etc. True of some writers works, but NOT of Poul Anderson!


Sean M. Brooks said...

A few more thoughts occurred to me about people who sneer at and mock action and adventure in the stories, in science fiction, mysteries, or what not. Most of us who live in Western or Westernized nations live quiet, peaceful lives with little drama or excitement bigger than what happens in our personal lives. For the most part this is not a bad thing. It's far better than anarchy, chaos, and a society collapsing! To read about action and adventure in science fiction gives us some idea of what might life might be like if we were different or our times not as they are, in both good and bad ways. We can't help but wonder how we might behave or react if our lives were more like Nicholas van Rijn, Holger Carlsen, Dominic Flandry, etc.

When action and adventure is incorporated as carefully and skillfully as writers like Poul Anderson and the truly great masters of science fiction have done, that is good! Because action and adventure helps to keep us INTERESTED in what we read, wondering how our heroes will get out of tight spots. Because writers like Poul Anderson include far MORE than simply action and adventure: they include speculations about mankind, the societies he has created and might create, what it might be like in other times and worlds, the rise and fall of civilizations, etc.

The really good writers also don't shy away from taboo subjects such as religion: they take seriously the religions and philosophies real people believe in. Including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and (ugh!) Islam. Writers like Poul Anderson and S.M. Stirling are among the too few science fiction authors who give speculations about how these religions and philosophies may affect us in the future or in alternate worlds/universes.

So, I absolutely and EMPHATICALLY disagree with people who ignorantly sneer at action and adventure! I get the strong impression, from what I have observed, that only stories about middle class angst and sexual depravity are considered "literature." How boring!