Sunday, July 11, 2010

Gary Jennings: Smut, History, Purity, Coincidence, and Torture

I'm re-reading "Aztec," the Gary Jennings book that I first read many years ago, and I have a few things to add to my previous post about the Jennings formula (at least as it applies this novel and "Raptor").

Yes, Jennings does his research, and combined with a perfect sense of pacing he manages to convey a realistic impression of what it was like to live at the time (in this case, to be an Aztec before, during, and after the Spanish conquest). I'm re-reading this particular book because I want to learn a bit more about Central American civilization, and "Aztec" is telling me a hell of a lot.

But Jennings isn't content to write 750-page books about dry old history, he must also introduce characters who are almost Ayn Rand-ian in their purity: the loyal and innocent servant, the battle-hardened and kind-hearted soldier, the intelligent and noble protagonist, the honest craftsman who pours his entire soul into his work.

These characters would be the first to disappear in an Ayn Rand novel, though, because they are so noble and pure that they can't even be CAPITALISTS (what sort of craftsman would give away his work for free simply because he is proud of what he does?), but they do share the Rand-trait of being such focuses of ideology that reality seems to WARP AROUND them. Thanks to their unswerving characteristics they form impossible alliances, get out of impossible (but clever) traps, and discover impossible things...you know, like Mayan eyeglasses.

During all of this they engage in meticulously-described sexual acrobatics, and they also witness meticulously-described tortures that make even the most hardened reader (me) physically ill. When reading either "Aztec" or "Raptor" you can rest assured that if things are getting a bit bogged down in philosophy or natural beauty, a flaying or an orgy is right around the corner.

As amazed as I am by Gary Jenning's audacity at writing historical novels which are simultaneously accurate and wildly exploitative and impossible, I have to admit that he's an incredible writer. In the pauses between the lesbian couplings and the guys whose guts splash out, his characters meditate on civilization and love, on warfare and writing, on the beauty of the universe and the beauty of the flowers. I have never read any other author who could pull this off so seamlessly that it becomes a genre unto itself...and for 750 pages, no less!

Here's to Gary Jennings. I wish I knew more about the man who wrote these books. In fact, I wish I could read at least one other review that bothered to mention this curious juxtaposition of brilliance and cheap smut.

2 comments:

Generic said...

I assume you've already trolled this impressive site:

http://www.garyjennings.net/

Telling detail: He worked early in his career as the editor of "Gent" and "Dude" magazines. So he comes by the smut honestly.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Ahhh, thanks! I hadn't thought to try the obvious URL!

I have some reading to do...