“So awful things happen sometimes, but good things can happen too. The trick is to be as brave as you can through the terrible parts so you can get to the wonderful ones, because they will come along someday,” said Masterman.
“That’s true,” said Emma, looking around at the Grand Wenlocke.
“And when they come, you have to remember how to be happy again,” Masterman added. “That’s very important.”
“But you can’t ever forget the people you lose, can you?” said Emma.
“Of course not,” said Masterman. He picked up his water glass and held it up. “Here’s to making them proud of us!”
Those lines are from The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker. I finished it today, and I think it’s one of the best books I’ve read recently. Why do I like it so much? Partly because it’s a strange and beautiful story, and partly because of the writing. It’s deceptively simple, but also lyrical. It gives off a beautiful tone, like a glass bell. It’s my favorite kind of writing, straightforward and clear, with a certain lucidity, delicacy, humor. And the story itself is wise.
I’d read two of Baker’s stories before, and I have to admit that I’d thought of them as relatively ordinary science fiction stories, although better than most. I picked up this book at the World Fantasy Convention, partly because I liked the title and the cover image of a pair of feet in the sand. Here it is:
And I probably opened the book and read the first few paragraphs, because I tend to do that. It begins,
Cleverness and bravery are absolutely necessary for good adventures.
Emma was a little girl both clever and brave, and destined – so you might think – to do well in any adventure that came her way. But the first adventure Emma had was dreadful.
One day a storm came and swept everything away that Emma had, and everything that Emma knew. When it had done all that, it swept away Emma too.
Isn’t that a wonderful way to begin a book? It’s certainly a way that will engage me at once, because I want to know what happens to little girls who lose everything, even themselves. I don’t want to tell you too much about it, but it’s the perfect book to buy for yourself, or for anyone you care about. The perfect present. If you’re interested, you can order it from Tachyon Publications or Amazon.
In my last post, I talked about learning from other writers, and this is an excellent example. From The Hotel Under the Sand I learn that one can still write like this, in a style that reminds me just a little of E.B. White, but more fantastical. And I learn how: I look at the sentences and ask, how are they constructed, how does Baker achieve that ease, that effortlessness? And I see where the story places itself, in that liminal space I talk about, where Edward Gorey was working. (The Hotel Under the Sand reminds me just a little of Edward Gorey with sunlight. With a happy ending.) And it makes me ask, what in a story gives us pleasure? And helps me to see what does.
Like most well-brought-up children, she had always wanted to shoot off a real cannon.
Isn’t that a wonderful line?
Kage was one of the best writers to enter the field in the last thirty years. I miss her keenly every time I pick up one of her stories or novels, and realize that there won’t be any more.
You might like her short pirate novel, OR ELSE MY LADY KEEPS THE KEYS. Or her fantasy THE BIRD ON THE RIVER.
Thanks for the recommendations, Gardner! I never met her, but many of my friends knew her and miss her very much. Now that I’ve read one story of hers that I love, I will definitely be searching out others. I really think that The Hotel Under the Sand should be, and will hopefully become, a classic children’s book.
I certainly hope it will (: Its heartwrenchingly beautiful, truly.