Jim Butcher & NaNo

On the Butch

I’ve been reading quite a bit of Jim Butcher (of Dresden Files fame) lately and I thought that I’d share my thoughts on him and his work as a preamble, or pre-ramble rather, or just ramble even.

I came across Jim first through the short-lived television version of his Dresden Files books, which I enjoyed quite a bit. As is my way with such things, I immediately sought out his books. Failing to find any sort of consecutive collection of his books in the library, or indeed anywhere else, I instead stumbled onto his Codex Alera series, a different fantasy series he was working on concurrently to the Dresden Files.

My thoughts on the two are pretty much the same, actually, though I think the Codex Alera series to be of considerably higher quality. Butcher isn’t very original, his work isn’t breaking any new ground, his characters aren’t any different from the usual stock, it’s all very average really – but he works well enough within the conventional grounds to change the landscape just the right amount and make it more his than anything else – except for the entertainment factor.

This is where Butcher excels. He’s not the best writer out there, not by a good long margin, but he’s surely one of the smartest business-wise, and easily one of the most entertaining.

Take the Dresden Files for instance – the chronicles of Chicago’s only publicly listed professional wizard and private investigator, Harry Dresden, are all short novels of his misadventures as he fights both the mundane and the supernatural alongside Chicago PD’s Special Investigations unit. These quick, bite sized books can be read in a couple of hours and pack an adrenaline punch of unusual strength. That’s because from page one, to the very end, Butcher sets a ridiculous pace, a breathtaking race to solve the mystery and survive against the odds. It’s a pace that genuinely couldn’t be sustained in lengthier books and it almost always leaves you wanting more.

Butcher’s strength as a novellist is also his weakness in a way. His command of structure really is impeccable and there isn’t a single ounce of fat in any of his books; every page speeds you on further, every scene matters, there’s nothing to drag you down in the headlong rush to the finish line but there isn’t ever variation. Sure, why fix what isn’t broken, right? But there’s an element of mechanical rigidity, of inflexible routine and predictability to it that’s a little off-putting after a while. Commercially, it makes sense for him to write in this fashion, short and sharp and leaving us wanting to consume more – keeps his output high and the money rolling.

Nonetheless, I find myself wanting more as a reader, something that isn’t so quick and rushed, there’s never any time to truly explore the world in question, no time to savour the weirdness. A part of me suspects that’s because the world in question might not stand up to such careful coverage, but I guess we’ll never know. Another thing that bugs me is the episodic structure – again, smart from a business perspective, new readers can jump in at any point and not need to go back and read the previous dozen or whatever but for the reader faithfully following in chronological order it gets very old, very quickly, having to read the exact same character-introductions, the exact same apartment descriptions and anecdotes. I felt that way during the second novel. I’m on the 7th now and I actually can’t stand it any longer; I just skim past.

Small quibbles, really. Butcher is always fun, infused with a wry humour and a fine sense of the ridiculous, so I’m quite happy to give him a thumbs up and say, give him a shot. (I can’t speak for the first of the Dresden books though; I read it far too long ago).

On NaNo

I got nothing.

I’m so screwed.