Thursday, May 23, 2013

Necessary Evil, by Ian Tregillis

Pulp fiction (not the movie) intends its readers to breeze through it. The thoughts that smut novels evoke aren't supposed to be worth the paper and ink in the book itself. Volumes of pulp exist to fill shelves, to decorate windows, to sell quick or go in the trash. If pulp writing has that reputation, then how can I fault literary types for so often leering at genre fiction? Science fiction, fantasy, detective stories, comic books, romance, adventure, mystery -- tradition dictates that these are printed cheaply and read mindlessly.

Anyone who reads such smut, though, knows differently. Raymond Chandler went from hack to Supreme Being of Hardboiled Detective Writing. J. R. R. Tolkien made fantasy cool in the fifties... and in the seventies... and again in the aughts. And Ian Tregillis, in the final book of the Milkweed Triptych, proves that cross-genre fiction can be smart, witty, devilish, and addictive.

Plus, the writing is deceptively smart. All three books have lured me into reading speedily because they are snagless. I read them too quickly, actually; someday soon, I want to re-read the whole set to see what I missed.

(They're the kind of books that will be different the second time through. You'll know what's going on... but instead of spotting the seams, you'll gape at the fine needlework.)

The books are so enjoyable that, as you can see, I spend my time going off like a fanboy about how TOTALLY WICKED they are instead of musing about their themes or what deep implications their pages hold.

But honestly, these books are so good because you don't feel like you're reading a diatribe. Ayn Rand's books are a tin-can shell for her philosophy. But for all the immense and torrential thought Tregillis puts into his books, they are first and foremost stories. No spoonfuls of sugar here.

(He let me hurl questions at him over on the New Mexico Mercury, if you want to sample his take on humanity's potential and read about his next projects.)

High school teaches most of us to pick apart literature like a baked chicken carcass without letting us eat the good meat. I think we get more out of books when they spark us to think, to examine, to wonder, while being themselves enjoyable. Necessary Evil (along with its predecessors) is just that kind of book.

The literary snobs shy away from hedonism as if a book must be obtuse to be worth reading. Give me the high-quality pulp any day.

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