Two books by Neal Barrett, jr

A few weeks back I confessed my ignorance of Neal Barrett, jr, who has been named this year’s Author Emeritus by the SFWA. I’m generally prepared to expand my horizons, so ordered a couple of his books from Bookmooch and read them in transit this weekend. I have to say that my ignorance has been replaced by some puzzlement; I did not think that either of these was a particularly good book. I hope that his other work has demonstrated the excellence that SFWA has chosen to honour, but there is little sign of it from what I’ve read.

April Books 23) Stress Pattern

A story of a bloke who crashes on an alien planet where strange creatures live, some of them formed by his own thoughts and desires. (Solaris meets “A Martian Odyssey” only nothing like as good.) His fantasy woman is created for him and it doesn’t work out. Only 160 pages, thank God.

April Books 24) Judge Dredd (the book-of-the-film)

I’ve never more than skimmed 2000 AD but was aware of the basic set-up of Dredd’s world; I have not seen the 1996 movie starring Silvester Stallone. Difficult to, er, judge what Barrett’s input to the final product is (he did not write the screenplay) but I felt that I missed the broad sweep of scene-setting which is necessary in a novelisation of this kind; no real sense of landscape or background. There are some nice inserts from a future historian commenting on the story as past history, including one (perhaps despairing?) piece near the end complaining that it is all made up. Barrett also wrote the novelisations for the Dungeons and Dragons movie and Barb Wire, but I will not rush to acquire either.

There must surely be numerous other authors of similar prominence and age to Barrett who would qualify as Authors Emeriti (or Emeritæ). Maybe I was just unlucky; I will concede that a book’s availability from Bookmooch may not be a good indicator of quality.

One thought on “Two books by Neal Barrett, jr

  1. I’m not sure which bit of what I said you disagree with, but if Jason is simply arguing that the upper house ought to be selected on a different basis than the lower, I have no argument with him. That didn’t seem to me to be his implication.

    The issue for me is primarily one of democratic legitimacy. As for what people do elsewhere – well the world is a big place, and I’m sure you know more about its various systems of government than I do, but most of the upper houses I can think of are either directly elected, or else at least elected by a body which is itself elected (of course less satisfactory from my point of view, but a gesture in the right direction!). I can’t, off the top of my head, think of any upper house (at least in a country that’s generally regarded as a democracy), that has no democratic component at all, except for the UK and its Canadian clone.

    The Seanad is a mess, constitutionally speaking, but it can’t really be held up as an example of the perils having direct elections – since it doesn’t! (Oh, unless you went to Trinity… nice touch.) In fact, it strikes me as much closer to the current House of Lords in spirit, which even has its own vocational panel in the form of the CofE bishops, than to the US senate or the German Bundesrat (to pick a couple of institutions that are very different from each other, but both democratic and functional, and in nations that aren’t generally regarded as basket cases). And if the Seanad is full of political hacks because of the power of patronage and the law of buggins’ turn – well, so is the House of Lords. And worse, because (like the honours system in general) the prospect of a peerage is regularly employed by Prime Ministers to induce MPs to vote against their consciences and the interests of their electors, the House of Lords even compromises the democratic functioning of the Commons.

    As for what I’d like – well, I’m not wedded to the current proposals, and if they’d be an improvement the bar isn’t set very high, let’s face it. Ideally, I’d like a system more like the German one, and for the UK (if it is to survive at all) to be considerably more federal, with the upper house elected on a regional basis. This would have the advantages of a) addressing the democratic deficit in England, vis-a-vis the other parts of the UK, and b) counteracting the Londocentricity of the body politic and the economy. That way, it would not only introduce an element of democracy (which I’m old-fashioned enough to think a good thing in itself), but it would also do something to mitigate two the other great constitutional and social scandals of our day.

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