"Men of few words are the best men." - William Shakespeare, King Henry V, Act III, Scene II

Friday, December 18, 2009

QMBC II: 2001 - A Space Odyssey


The Meeting

The second meeting of the Quincey Morris Book Club took place on the evening of Friday 18th December 2009, the venue once again being O’Neill’s of Suffolk Street. Present in order of arrival were William Clay, Carl Jameson, Xavier Paddington, Tiger McGavin, Atticus McCarthy, Whitby Syme and Mycroft Webb.

This constituted a ‘royal flush attendance’ which we must endeavour to replicate in future meetings where possible. Taking the minutes was Whitby Syme and I am indebted to his accurate and comprehensible notetaking.

In addition the club was joined in an observatory capacity by the noted critic Foghorn Leghorn, sitting in bemused silence throughout the discussion.

The meeting was conducted at a brisk trot if not quite a gallop, due to all attendees having arranged a non-literary social outing to the Prodigy that same evening. In retrospect this may have proven a bridge too far in fusion of engagements, and consideration was given to the avoidance of such multiplicity in future. The parties having dined and supped by 6pm sallied forth into discussion of this sessions’ subject matter, Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“Fuck the film”

A consensus was established early on that the film falls down on a bare comparison with the book or indeed any other film. Summations such as “terrible” and “pile of shite” were bandied about freely, before it was agreed that the film didn’t merit further consideration as a topic given the time constraints. Instead, some minutes were diverted into a discussion concerning the fabric of Atticus' shirt, focussing mainly on its oil-like silkiness, iridescence, and unique panache as a garment.

Quincey Morrisness

Moving onto a focussed analysis of the book itself, the first attribute to be considered was its Quincey Morrisness. Despite having previously established that fiction doesn’t require a gun-toting American protagonist in order to register a reading on the QM scale, a meaningful examination in this arena was hampered by a belligerent and obstructive William Clay, who steadfastly refused to entertain any finding of QM-ness in the text of MMI:ASO. It appears from William’s viewpoint that a novel requires a minimum threshold of at least one Winchester rifle to register a QM reading, and thus he scored the novel a ‘minus 1’ on QM-ness.

Other members’ input was more constructive; Tiger noting that Bowman taking off his helmet in a vacuum was quite QM-esque (this was seconded by Mycroft). Atticus felt that Bowman’s fight and victory against HAL was also quite QM-ish. Carl felt that the spirit of QM was well represented in the depiction of primitive weapon use by apes in chapter one. Controversy raged on whether the character ‘Moon Boots’ comes close to fulfilling the role of surrogate Quincey Morris in any capacity. A firm consensus was never reached on this point.

Unputdownableness and/or Interestingness

MMI:ASO was deemed to be almost universally not unputdownable. Only Atticus was able to give it a ‘thumbs up’ in terms of unputdownableness, having finished it in merely three sittings. The rest of the club found the text to be akin to literary porridge, tedious to digest. Mycroft termed it ‘overdescribed’ and pointed out the presence of ‘star child’ as a get out of jail free card from bad writing. It was generally accepted however that where the author falls down in pure literary talent, he excels in imaginative thinking, thus rendering the novel high on a level of interestingness. High regard was had for his predictions of technological advances, for the notion that robots would someday make better astronauts than humans, for the use of centrifugal force to simulate gravity on a space station and for naming his evil computer HAL after IBM (shifted one letter).

One Sentence Summary

At this point, Whitby Syme canvassed a selection of one sentence summaries of the novel, a concept which was greeted with enthusiasm by the club. They are as follows;

Tiger: “Needs more sex”

Mycroft: “Would probably be a good graphic novel, though how about no more sci-fi for the next 6 months?”

Carl: “One small step for science fiction”

William: “I’ve read better sci-fi”

Xavier: “Ahead of its time”

Atticus: “As a virgin, it was my stargate to sci-fi”

Whitby: “Weak characters”

Scoring

A new scoring system was developed, based on a relative comparison between Dracula and the current novel. Members were free to assign marks to the book in its own right, or on a “Dracula +/- x points” basis, the baseline Dracula score being taken as their rating for said book. The results were as follows:

William: Dracula - 8 points (48.5)

Carl: Dracula + 1 (41)

Phil: 57

MB: Dracula +1 (41)

Xavier: Dracula (42)

Mycroft: 37

Whitby: Dracula -2 (57)

Thus the average score for MMI:ASO was established to be 46.21

Nominations

William:
Jaws by Peter Benchley
Berlin Game by Len Deighton
Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

Carl:
The Ginger Man by J. P. Donleavy
A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry
The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Tiger:
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
War of the Flea by Robert Taber
The Murphy Report

Atticus:
A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry
A Long Way Home by Nancy Price Graff
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Mycroft:
Children of Men by P. D. James
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman by Bruce Robinson
Schopenhauer’s Telescope by Gerald Donovan

Xavier:
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Something by Richard Dawkins by Richard Dawkins

The nominations were thrown open to the group in the hopes of narrowing the list to a shortlist of 6-8 novels. Each member then chose a first preference book and a second preference, assigning them 3 points and 1 point respectively.

The League Table

WhitbyMycroftPhilMBWilliamCarlTotal
Berlin Game11114
Ginger Man336
Princess Bride
AQOTWF
All the Pretty Horses33
Children of Men336
Thomas Penman33
The Road1113

The Ginger Man and Children of Men were tied at 6 points each, so a show of hands was taken to break the deadlock. The result was 4 votes for The Ginger Man and 3 for Children of Men. Disquiet was expressed around the voting system, particularly to the effect that the 3 point allocation to the first preference was too much weight. It was observed that some of the books had a large second preference interest, yet were knocked out of the running by heftier first preference votes. This was recognised by all present as a valid concern, though one which nobody cared to resolve there and then. The Ginger Man was selected, thus ending a successful QMBC II.

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