Tag Archives: a fan’s notes

The Ask, “The Sentence is a Lonely Place,” fudge

I have an ideological commitment to a somewhat unpopular theory of prose fiction: that features like “character”, “plot,” and “setting” are epiphenomena that arise after the fact, more or less by accident; that writers write sentences, then go back and see what characters, plot, and setting the sentences add up to, then revise the sentences to avoid any obvious incongruities.

But when someone states the claim as starkly, and argues for it as forcefully, as Gary Lutz does in “The Sentence is a Lonely Place,” I start to doubt my own belief in it.  Hard to get the sense of Lutz’s approach from a short excerpt, so here’s a long one:

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Reader survey: what is the great American nerd novel?

This year’s Pulitzer winner The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a candidate; it begins with an epigraph from Galactus, and there’s hardly a page without a nod to Marvel Comics, Tolkien, or Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Like the many Spanish words and phrases, the nerd content isn’t translated. The Spanish you can usually work out from context — but if you’re a little shaky on the Witch-king of Angmar, or what it means to have an 18 charisma, or if you’re familiar with the Watcher’s role monitoring the timestreams from the Blue Area of the Moon but forgot that his given name is Uatu, you’re going to miss a lot.

Austin Grossman‘s Soon I Will Be Invincible, subject of this blog’s inaugural post, is in the running too — it’s not really a book about nerds, like Oscar Wao, but a book which inhabits a nerdy genre, the brooding supervillain autobio, and makes an honest novel out if it.

I don’t think the answer has to has anything to do with SF — one can engage with the soul of the nerd without raising the topic of hit points or Darkseid. Robert Coover’s The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. is devoted to the nerd’s characteristically fervent attention to minutiae (in this case, the minutiae belong to a fantasically detailed baseball simulation played with dice.) And probably no one has ever treated the toxic fury of the nerd gaze, directed at the jock, as well as Frederick Exley did in the USC sections of A Fan’s Notes.

You could also give extra points for novels especially beloved by nerds — who wins in that case, Neal Stephenson? When I was a young nerd it would have been Douglas Adams by parsecs and maybe that’s still true.

More nominations in comments, please!

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