I have finally put my finger on why I love Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder so much. My husband and mom (and frankly, anyone within earshot) are forced to listen to me opine at length about the effect Carla and her writing have had on me. My mom finally asked me, after I’d laid out the abusive-parent storyline in Talisman for her: “So, if the book has all these horrible, intense things going on in it, why do you enjoy it so much?”
It got me thinking. I know the book has sent tremors through my brain — and my own storytelling — since the first time I met Carla and Catboy at a convention some five years ago; I’d have to say that she’s my biggest single influence these days. But why? Why her, and why Finder, specifically?
The answer, as it finally unreeled itself in my brain today, is that I can’t see Carla’s scaffolding.
Let me back up a little here.
One of the drawbacks to becoming a serious writer (I speak as one still in the process of becoming, as I consider myself to be still splashing around in the kiddie-pool-end of comics) is that as you start looking at the structure of writing, as you start reverse-engineering your favorite works of literature to see what makes them tick, you start to see the “scaffolding” — the things that hold up, and sometimes prop up the story.
We are surrounded by formulaic story. TV, movies, newspapers, pop music, magazines, theatre — it’s all preplanned. You can see it coming; every event seems telegraphed. Characters from central casting, “news” reporters parroting the same hackneyed phrases each night, classic movies rehashed to drivel, stock plots boiled down to pabulum for easy digestion by the masses. Smart, different stories don’t sell. Somewhere on the internet, there’s this great MP3 of two Nickelback hit singles, one played through the left speaker, one through the right. They each have the same three chords, the verses last exactly the same amount of time, and the bridge kicks in at the exact same moment. Without editing. Use these chords, make the song last this long, verse chorus verse, bridge goes here; instant hit single. Formula. Scaffolding.
Carla’s books are utterly, luminously, original. They bristle with ideas — sometimes the plot gets drowned in the sheer amount of individual high concepts she’s trying to articulate. A sixty-foot sculpture of Ganesh. Houses made of trees in the center of a bustling, thirty-story domed future metropolis. A society reduced to reading by way of cranial jacks. Lion-headed women that choose their king by way of “Royal Jelly”; a bizarre inverse on the world of bees. Each concept is enough to fuel an entire book; Carla layers ideas this big six or eight deep in each issue. She locks them in a room and lets them fight it out.
Many people have told me Finder constitutes information overload. Fine by me. I can practially finish the sentences of every person I hear speak — and often do, to the vast irritation of my family. Everything I watch or see or read or hear seems to be lock-stepped into some bizarre Corporate Lowest Common Entertainment Denomonator, and I can see the Goddamned scaffolding, and most of the time I’m so fucking bored I could scream. I need new, deep, thorough ideas that make me stop and really, really think. I need books that are going to challenge — and never insult — my memory, my intellect, my imagination. As the saying goes, good science fiction should ask you to suspend your disbelief, but never your intelligence.
Carla’s work does just that, on a scope that I consider unrivaled in fiction — fiction of any kind — these days. If anyone can show me a series, a film, a television program that can even come close to the depth and breadth of her world, sign me up, ’cause that’s some entertainment I’d love to see. I want Carla to come to my house, hook her personal firehose up to my ear, and unleash her hydrant of ideas. I want her to trepan my skull, insert a funnel, and start cramming in storylines with a Goddamn plunger. I want her to hypnotize me back into wide-eyed childlike wonder as she weaves the most obscure ancient anthropological societal quirks with high-tech futuristic gadgetry. Her mental magpie’s nest, full of myriad objects bright and shiney, feels like perfect — if disorienting — home to me.
Through all this, through all the high concepts and deep ideas, her characters are gloriously, horrifyingly human. They murder and crusade, grow and stagnate, love and fuck — sometimes on the same page. No one ever wears a white hat; no one society (or societal subsect) is ever perfect. Individuals carom off each other in conversation and in action, acting as foil for their counterparts, showing the tragic heights and sublime depths of their character. Nothing is ever spelled out. Everything is left open to interperetation. There are no pat answers.
Figure it out.
Don’t get it? Read it again. And again. And if you’re me, again. Each time you return, you’ll find something you missed, or forgot, or didn’t quite connect. My God, what a pleasure that is in a world of rehashed, overdone, underthought stories.
And the art? Sweet jeebus, who can forget that art, that sensual, flowing line, the insane levels of crosshatch, all painstakingly rendered with the same dedication and attention to detail she provides to her equally intricate plots. If I ever get even a fraction of that line quality, I’ll die a happy woman.
Finder‘s a blessing. I crave it. Carla, gimme everything you got.
Especially if it got some seh-say Jaeger in it.