Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Agenda 21: A Room Like Any Other

Agenda 21, pp. 14-15

As we move beyond the one somewhat commendable part of this book, I'd like to say something about the cover. There's actually more than one cover, but here's mine:

Pretty boring, isn't it? I'm sure that with the decline of bookstores and the market shift towards a handful of famous and established authors, perhaps covers just aren't as important as they once were. If there's not much browsing, then there's no real need for eye-catching design. But forget design - what the hell is the deal with the cover?

It's actually meant to be our protagonist's domicile:

Gray walls, gray floor. A cold concrete square. One window slit on each of the four walls and the single wooden door that led outside to the compound's common area, a packed dirt space with a gate, guarded by a gatekeeper. Inside, the space was divided into three areas. To one side of the door was the eating space with a counter to place our nourishment cubes and water bottles on. On the other side, the washing-up room with its limp privacy curtain. In the back was the sleeping area, with our mats on the floor and hooks on the wall to hang our uniforms. Along the wall on the right was the energy output area. This is where our boards stood, side by side.

I don't know - I've lived in a few places not much nicer than this.

In any case, I typed out this rather long descriptive passage because, like the cover, it's important. You see, 60-70% of the novel takes place in this one room.* Seriously - we're not going to be leaving this room until much later, when we go to the one other location we're allowed to visit. If you were expecting to see a Winston Smith or Offred exploring the world of Glenn Beck's nightmares, then I have some bad news.

There are certain types of novel that can get away with this kind of thing - epistolary fiction, some historical fiction, and techno-thrillers can all feature long passages set in a single confined space. The trick is that in these stories, there's always something interesting happening outside of that space. By contrast, the world of Agenda 21 is remarkably static. What "action" we get consists mainly of characters coming by to chat, turning this into the darkest Seinfeld knockoff ever made.

Actually, the sitcom comparison may not be so far off, as I've seen this before. Some writers treat their works as though they were on television, bound by budgets and travel restrictions. One of my favorite examples was a novel in which the first two chapters were set in Hong Kong and Tel Aviv - hotel bars in Tel Aviv. It's like a spy show, displaying an establishing reel of some exotic place and then cutting to an inside location so you don't know that they didn't really travel to those places. In a novel, all that proves is that the author hasn't learned that he can fly freely.

But returning to Agenda 21...well, memorize that description, because we're going to be here for a while. Are you excited?

*Correction from future me: Actually, the main character is moved between three Living Spaces over the course of the story. So really, it would be more accurate to say that we spend 60-70% of the story in one of three identical rooms. Much better, right?

No comments:

Post a Comment