Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Salon: three books.

At the moment I have three books on the go at once: The Turing Test by Chris Beckett (science fiction short stories); The Lure of China by Frances Wood (an account of various writers' attitudes to China) and Mortification edited by Robin Robertson ('writers' stories of their public shame').

The Turing Test I am enjoying mostly for its ideas and incredible imaginary leaps. For instance the story I'm reading now is about a world that exists alongside the physical world. It is 'Dotlands' where the social class is evoked by resolution and colour. High resolution people turn out to be actual organic people while the rest are a lower class. The lowest class are evoked by merely a line for a mouth and two dots for eyes. A tramp, for instance, is barely there - and when he does make his presence apparent he is a frightening apparition. It is an excellent metaphor for the poor in society; we only deign to notice them when they gather enough pixels together to become violent.

The narrator, Lemmy, becomes obsessed with a high resolution white hart, and when he chases after it encounters the 'Perimeter of the Urban Consensual Field' and an elderly woman who is beautiful because she is picked out in full colour and high resolution. She is part of the real world, a world that is in fact dying out while the low resolution world gathers strength. She alone chooses to see the lower resolutions, and for that she needs to keep her implants switched on. It reminds me a little of the film 'The Truman Show' and also Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris.

The Lure of China is a beautifully presented little book, and quite fascinating. The two most famous early accounts of China in the west were Marco Polo's account of 1271 and Sir John Mandeville's of 1356. For years these were both held in great esteem but it eventually turned out that both may have been based on hearsay rather than experience because there is a lot that does not make historical sense. For instance cities that are now known to have been previously sacked when these adventurers claim to have visited are described by them as flourishing and intact.

Frances Wood says they were written at a time when there was a fashion for romantic tales of adventure, and it is suspected that these subscribed to that genre rather than the travelogue of a real journey. But still, those accounts are interesting for their fantasy: golden wine dispensers operated by a child inside; walls of gold, silver, and studded with precious stones; cities containing not just houses but mountains and marbled-bridged lakes; and the citizens resplendent in shining silks. Maybe they were "The Turing Test"s of the thirteenth century.

Mortification is just plain funny. The accounts have different styles but they are all easy to read, and most of them are entertaining. I think my favourite to date has been Deborah Moggach's and her conversation with librarians who have invited her to give a talk.
'We've been looking at your photo,' they said, 'and trying to decide if you're vegetarian.' 'What did you decide?' I asked. 'That you weren't.' I took this as a compliment.
The rest is equally funny. She also makes me realise something important: although I have had some similar bizarre experiences and encountered some difficult situations as a writer, all of these famous authors have too. It is sobering, and also makes me realise that actually, most of the time, I was treated quite well.


Blogger Table Talk said...

I love the sound of 'Mortification'. We've all been there at some point or another. Perhaps reading about the terrible things that have happened to others might make us all feel better about those that we've endured!

Sun Jul 26, 02:21:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yes, quite so, Table Talk!

Sun Jul 26, 02:52:00 pm  
Anonymous gautami tripathy said...

All look good to me!

TSS: The Lost Book Of Salem by Katherine Howe

Kill Word Verification

Sun Jul 26, 03:51:00 pm  
Anonymous Harry Rutstein said...

"Lure of China" and Frances Wood's last book "Did Marco Polo Go To China" has been debunked by my new book "The Marco Polo Odyssey: In the Footsteps of a Merchant Who Changed the World"(2008) by Harry Rutstein. I was the first person to follow his exact route to authenticate Marco Polo's book. Ever major authority on Marco Polo agrees with me. Marco Polo did go to China and my book proves it. For more information contact or go to

Mon Jul 27, 09:04:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

How interesting Harry! I've just taken a look at your excellent website and am most impressed. I think I need to learn more about your books and travels.

Tue Jul 28, 07:36:00 pm  
Blogger David said...

Hello, I just wandered by from the Sunday Salon site looking for posts to comment on. And since I've recently read The Turing Test, I thought I'd ask how you got on with the rest of it. Personally, I thought it was a wonderful collection -- and 'The Perimeter' was one of my favourite stories in the whole book.

Sun Aug 09, 11:40:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

David: I must confess I haven't finished yet - but I've loved what I've read so far - the ideas have been mind-blowing.

Sun Aug 09, 11:48:00 pm  

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